Legislation Would Give Solar Power a Boost in Iowa

midwestenergynewsSolar energy, already on a roll in Iowa, could get another boost from three bills under consideration in the state legislature.

One bill, introduced on Wednesday, requires Iowa’s major investor-owned utilities to install 105 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2020, among other provisions.

Another would appropriate $18 million to the state’s three major universities, requiring each of them to install at least two megawatts of solar capacity by June 2017.

A third bill would double the money in the state’s tax credit fund for solar or other renewable energy systems. The fund was created in 2012 with $1.5 million in tax credits to be made available each year. Iowans collected about $620,000 in 2012, and claimed the full $1.5 million in 2013.

In fact, 94 applications in 2013 came in after the fund was depleted for the year, according to an Iowa Department of Revenue spokeswoman, and will be the first applications processed in 2014.

“I’d like to make sure all the projects applied for in 2014 get funded,” said state Sen. Rob Hogg.

At $1.5 million per year, state Sen. Joe Bolkcom said the fund “is still pretty meager. We’re going to try to make it more robust.”

He believes an expansion of the tax credit has a good shot at passing, considering the widespread – and bipartisan – support when it was initially approved in 2012. It passed on votes of 45 to 1 in the Senate and 82 to 14 in the House of Representatives.

“I’m hopeful we can make the case for job creation,” he said. “Like a lot of things in the energy sector, we provide incentives to get them going, so people can see the promise of solar.”

Read more at Midwest Energy News

 

In the Midwest, farmers leading the way on solar power

Solar installations have been taking off in many areas of the Midwest, but perhaps nowhere more so than in farm country.

“It’s a huge buzz now throughout the agriculture industry,” said Todd Miller, sales director for CB Solar in Ankeny, Iowa.

In Washington County, Iowa, for example, farmers with access to an unusual and lucrative combination of federal, state and utility incentives were anticipating payback periods of as little as two years, according to Ed Raber, director of the county’s economic development corporation.

Consequently, he said, “There are more solar panels in Washington County than in any other county in Iowa.”

The heat in Washington County, just south of Iowa City, has dissipated a bit, largely because the local utility – Alliant Energy – terminated its subsidy as of Dec. 31. However, solar panels continue to make inroads on farms in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest.

‘A ripple effect’

In Ohio, EcoJiva Solar has seen growing interest from farmers since its founding six years ago, according to sales director Jess Ennis. Of the more than 100 systems the company has installed, he said, the vast majority have been on farms.

At the outset, the company envisioned bringing solar energy to manufacturers, he said, but they were too financially squeezed for a big capital investment. Agriculture, on the other hand, was thriving – and quite receptive to the idea of going solar.

Take, for example, the panels that EcoJiva installed on a farm outside of Huron, Ohio.

“Within several months,” Ennis said, “we developed three systems north and south of there. Within a three-mile stretch of road, we now have four systems.

“Generally speaking, when we install a system, it creates a ripple effect.”

Minnesota installer Curt Shellum also has found that, in farm country, solar arrays tend to breed more solar arrays.

“You get systems out there, people see them and drop by,” he said. In the agricultural region of southeast Minnesota, where he does most of his work, Shellum said, demand among farmers “is definitely growing for us. We’ve done maybe a dozen installs. In the last month, we’ve done enough farm proposals to equal the number of kilowatts we installed last year.”

In Illinois, solar developer Michelle Marley agrees that word of mouth is important.

“It’s just now starting to get a foothold,” she said. “The greatest obstacle is getting the word out.”

A long-term investment

Solar panels are a natural fit on a farm, a few installers observed. Shellum said that, for several reasons, they’re his “favorite type of installation.”

For one, farms tend to use a lot of power, with monthly electric bills sometimes running into the thousands of dollars. They need electricity to run fans, to heat and cool barns for dairy cows, to cool milk and produce, to dry grain and move it around.

Many farms also have barns with roofs that lend themselves to holding up solar panels. And if there’s not a suitable roof, there’s usually plenty of space for a freestanding array.

In addition, farmers are accustomed to thinking long-term and investing in their business. Many of them have maintained the farm in their family for generations, and expect it to continue as a family-owned enterprise that will reap the benefits of investment in solar energy for decades to come.

And they tend to be an independent lot who like the prospect of producing their own power.

Like Tim Ridgely, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat along with his son in central Illinois. In 2012, the Ridgelys put up a 17 kilowatt system in a field by their house and cut the electricity bill by about 40 percent, according to Tim Ridgely. Then, in 2013, they added 22 kilowatts, at a cost of 59 cents per watt after accounting for all credits, grants and subsidies they received.

Although he won’t have the full picture until next summer, Ridgely said, “We hope to be close to self-sufficient.”

Phil Rich had five systems totaling 110 kilowatts installed last spring on his farm in Washington County, Iowa. He’d purchased some used wind turbines earlier, and found they were costly and not as productive as he’d anticipated. His solar panels have been quite a different story.

“My last electric bill – and I did a lot of welding – was $600,” he said a couple months ago. “And normally it would be around $1,500 to $2,000.”

Subsidies a key factor

Michelle Wei, the installer who put panels up at Phil Rich’s farm and at numerous others in Washington and Henry counties, said many of her customers tried wind energy, and then opted to try solar.

Regardless of the technology, she said, “farmers are really interested in renewable energy.”

“We try to do things that are environmentally friendly,” said Linda Gent, who had three systems totaling 96 kilowatts installed on her house and two hog units in Wellman, Iowa. But there’s no denying that subsidies played into her decision to go ahead, she said.

Alliant Energy’s benefit covered about 25 percent of the cost, she said. State and federal tax credits lightened the burden on her even further. Many Midwestern farmers also have tapped into the a USDA grant (Rural Energy for American Program) that can cover up to 25 percent of a project’s cost.

“When you put it all together, it makes great financial sense,” said Illinois developer Marley.

Without quite so much financial encouragement, Gent said, “We would have had to give it more thought.”

Iowa Nearly Hits $1.5 Million Cap on Solar Energy Tax Credits

Solarfield

Businesses received 97 solar energy tax credits in 2013 worth $987,830

Original source: The Gazette

Iowa awarded $1.36 million worth of tax credits to individuals and businesses in 2013 for installing solar energy panels and related equipment, almost hitting the annual cap of $1.5 million for the green energy tax breaks.

The Iowa Department of Revenue, in an annual report released Thursday, reported it awarded 264 tax credits for solar energy systems through Dec. 27. The agency said that number could still grow as not all applications received in 2013 were processed at the time of the report’s release.

The solar energy credits awarded in 2013 were substantially more than the $621,100 awarded in 2012.

The Department of Revenue, in its forecast of potential future tax credit liabilities, expects $817,403 worth of solar energy tax credits in fiscal year 2014, $1.3 million in FY 2015, $1.4 million in FY 2016 and $1.5 million in FY 2017 before the total falls below $1 million in FY 2018.

Iowa businesses received 97 of the solar energy tax credits in the last year worth $987,830. The other 167 credits were given to individuals for a total of $368,329.

Companies on average were awarded $10,184 for each tax credit, while individuals on average were awarded $2,206 for each credit.

Iowa’s solar energy tax credit was was enacted in May 2012, but was retroactive to solar energy systems placed in service on or after Jan. 1, 2012.

The Iowa tax credit for individuals cannot exceed $3,000. The tax credit for a corporation cannot exceed $15,000.

U.S. Will Top Germany In Solar Installation For The First Time In 15 Years

The third quarter of 2013 was another big one for the U.S. solar industry. 930 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) were installed across the country — the second largest quarter in the industry’s history — and it was the largest quarter ever for residential PV installations.

TopGermany

As the solar industry continues its remarkable growth, “2013 is likely to be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than world leader Germany,” according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

By the end of the year, more than 400,000 solar projects will be operating across the U.S. and installations will have grown 27 percent over 2012, with a 52 percent growth rate in the residential sector alone, according to GTM’s forecast.

Read more at ClimateProgress

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair Jon Wellinghoff: Solar ‘Is Going to Overtake Everything’

One of the country’s top regulators explains why he is so bullish on solar.

HERMAN K. TRABISH: AUGUST 21, 2013

If anybody doubts that federal energy regulators are aware of the rapidly changing electricity landscape, they should talk to Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything,” Wellinghoff told GTM last week in a sideline conversation at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

If a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour.

“That’s what is happening in solar. It could double every two years,” he said.

Indeed, as GTM Research’s MJ Shiao recently pointed out, in the next 2 1/2 years the U.S. will double its entire cumulative capacity of distributed solar — repeating in the span of a few short years what it originally took four decades to deploy.

Chart: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight

Geothermal, wind, and other resources will supplement solar, Wellinghoff said. “But at its present growth rate, solar will overtake wind in about ten years. It is going to be the dominant player. Everybody’s roof is out there.”

And those other resources have not seen declining prices like solar has. “Solar PV is $0.70 or $0.80 per watt to manufacture. Residential rooftop is $4 to $5 per watt. But they are going to drive that down to $2 and then to $1 per watt.”

Advanced storage technologies also promise lower costs, he said. “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or wind for power at night, that is ‘game over.’ At that point, it will be all about consumer-driven markets.”

Wellinghoff was a consumer advocate early in his career and has not changed sides. “Even though the FERC oversees wholesale markets, utilities, and other jurisdictional entities at the wholesale level, the consumer needs to be our major concern,” he said.

If FERC does not ensure the grid is ready to integrate the growing marketplace demand for distributed solar and other distributed resources, Wellinghoff said, “We are going to have problems with grid reliability and overall grid costs.”

Transmission infrastructure will be able to keep up with solar growth. The big changes will be at the distribution level where FERC has less influence, he explained. But the commission has been examining the costs and benefits of distributed generation (DG) in wholesale markets.

“Rate structures need to be formulated in ways that fully recognize the costs and benefits of distributed resources,” Wellinghoff said. “In many utility retail rates, a disproportionate amount of the fixed costs are recovered through a variable rate. That is problematic when a lot of people go to distributed generation.”

The net metering controversy this has caused at utilities like Xcel and Arizona Public Service, he said, can only be resolved by “the fully allocated, fully analyzed cost and benefit study of distributed resources.”

There is value in distributed solar, Wellinghoff said, “that can be captured and realized by the distribution utility that is not being paid to PV system owners because they have not been analyzed, quantified, and monetized.”

The Crossborder Energy study in California concluded the benefits of DG are near retail rates, he noted. “If utilities say that study is wrong, let’s get their studies and the studies from the solar side, and let’s have a hearing, let’s have full discovery, and let’s have a fully litigated process. That’s what regulatory commissions at the federal and state levels are for, to put all that data on the table and see what the accurate answers are.”

FERC isn’t involved in that process because it is a retail rate issue, Wellinghoff explained. “But DG and distributed solar can be wholesale grid resources if a wholesale grid operator can access those resources and have some control over them. What FERC has to do is ensure these distributed systems get recognized and compensated and integrated into the wholesale grid.”

If he was put in charge of updating the retail utility business model and pushing it to incorporate DG, Wellinghoff said, he would introduce more competition.

“I would unbundle utility services,” he said. “I would do a full analysis of anything not now competitive, like the distribution system, and then try to ensure I could recover costs in a way that adequately reflected all costs and benefits for all users.”

The sales of retail energy, capacity, and ancillary services should all be competitive and coupled with the wholesale grid, he said.

“Consumers should have access to and be able to respond to five-minute wholesale prices. They should have the opportunity — not the requirement, but the opportunity — to respond to those prices and modify their loads and usages to lower their energy costs. The result would be an optimized use of the grid.”

Watch Wellinghoff answer a caller’s question about distributed solar:

Tags: capacity, competition, consumer-driven markets, distributed generation, distributed solar, federal energy regulatory commission, ferc, jon wellinghoff, net metering, utilities,wholesale markets

Solar Power’s Growth in Iowa

IA Energy Center

Iowa Energy Center’s Alternate Energy Revolving Loan Program

According to Bill Haman, Iowa Energy Center’s Alternate Energy Revolving Loan Program (AERLP) manager, solar power is growing at a record pace around the world and Iowans are joining the bandwagon, especially on the eastern side of the state, while the western side is showing little interest. Mr. Haman sees this as odd, as Western Iowa is actually a “slightly better” location for solar power than Eastern Iowa. He explained that solar power is best in the extreme southwestern corner of the state and that it diminishes the further northeast you move.

Mr. Haman said there’s no time like the present to go solar if your surroundings meet the requirements because the price is lower than ever: “It’s low enough that it’s extremely competitive with any other alternative a homeowner may chose to explore…That compounded with federal and state incentives that are available makes it a very appealing opportunity if your residence is set up for it.”

When it comes to installation, according to Haman, the process is actually quite simple. Solar panels need to face south and be mounted on a rooftop in an urban setting, due to large trees or surrounding homes potentially casting shadows on the panels. A solar inverter needs to be installed to convert power for use as well. Since solar systems usually do not have any moving parts, they require little to no maintenance.

Those looking to install such a system need to work with a building inspector, secure the proper permits, submit an application to their local utility company, and should install energy efficient appliances, lights and insulation for maximum efficiency.

Read the full story from Sioux City Journal.

Five Benefits of Solar Energy

Original Source: The Energy Collective

Although some form of solar power has been available for decades, the technology has only recently gained mainstream acceptance and attracted the interest of big-time utility companies. On a per-kilowatt basis, solar power remains expensive relative to conventional sources of energy like coal and natural gas. Nevertheless, its overall cost continues to shrink at a rapid rate. As solar power becomes an increasingly important component of the country’s “energy mix,” it’s worth taking a look at five major benefits of solar power.

1. Changing Relationships with Public Utilities

Homeowners and business owners who install solar panels on their property enjoy more equitable relationships with their local utilities. Whereas conventional arrangements between utilities and their customers require the latter to be wholly dependent on the former, solar power users gain a measure of independence from their utilities. Even if their solar panels don’t produce all of the power that they need on a daily basis, they’ll need to buy less conventional power. If they produce more power than they require, their utilities may actually pay them for it at a fluctuating wholesale rate. For cash-strapped homeowners, this can turn into a significant source of revenue.

2. Healthy Financial Incentives

Along with various state agencies, the federal government offers attractive subsidies for private individuals who install solar panels or solar heating devices in their homes. In certain jurisdictions, generous subsidies may be available for businesses as well. Generally speaking, these incentives allow solar power users to claim tax credits in proportion to the amount of generation capacity that they install on their property. This reduces solar power start-up costs and increases the profitability of the technology.

3. Minimal Environmental Impact

Although the production of solar panels does require some inputs of raw materials and energy, solar power’s environmental impact is minimal. The technology produces none of the carbon, methane or particulate emissions that fossil fuels emit, and it doesn’t demand large-scale mining or drilling operations. Since panel arrays can be placed on rooftops or in isolated desert areas, solar power’s physical footprint is manageable as well.

4. Labor-Intensive Production Regimes

The solar power industry’s “innovation engine” has resulted in the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade alone. Although proponents of conventional energy technologies argue that the solar industry destroys more fossil fuel-related jobs than it creates, this is a misleading claim. After all, solar panel production is just a small facet of an overall industry that demands contributions from installation technicians, salespeople, battery-storage designers and other key players.

5. Geopolitical Benefits

Since the dawn of the fossil fuel age, the United States’ reliance on unstable or hostile countries to supply oil, gas and other energy resources has caused plenty of trouble. Indeed, the country’s political and business leaders are often forced to make unsavory compromises with shady or dangerous parties in order to guarantee steady energy imports. Since all of the solar power that the United States needs can be generated within the country’s own borders, the technology has the potential to eliminate this less-than-ideal reliance on imperfect actors. In the long run, such a development could increase the economic and physical security of every American citizen.

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Photo Credit: Solar Energy Benefits/shutterstock

Putting Things in Perspective

Solar power shouldn’t be mistaken for a cure-all that’s capable of single-handedly solving all of the world’s social, environmental and political ills. However, it’s a valuable technology that’s increasingly competitive with traditional sources of energy. Moreover, its benefits are undeniable. In the future, solar power is all but assured to have a lasting and overwhelmingly positive impact on our society.