Flood Warning

Sunshine Tax: Opponents Say New Bill Threatens the Solar Industry in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Solar energy advocates are working to throw out a new bill introduced at the Iowa State Capitol that they claim monopolizes the sun.

Opposers say House Study Bill 185 is threatening the solar industry in Iowa, but MidAmerican Energy says it simply puts “customer fairness” in place.

Iowa State Rep. John Forbes has 90 solar panels on top of his Medicap Pharmacy in Urbandale.

He says it produces about 80 to 90 percent of his electrical power over a 12-month period, but he fears this newly introduced bill could severely damage the future of solar energy in Iowa.

"In the case of my business, I had an eight-year payback on my system, and doing the calculations, with this bill, it would probably move that payback period to about 14 years," Forbes said.

House Study Bill 185 will add a yearly "sunshine tax" on private solar generators.

"This fee that would be charged in addition to your normal charges on your electric bill could potentially cause people to not want to maybe move in the direction of solar," Forbes said.

MidAmerican Energy is backing the bill and says non-solar customers are paying to use their electric grid, so it is only fair that so do solar energy customers.

"They don't pay to use the grid,” MidAmerican Energy spokesperson Tina Hoffman said, “even though they take energy from MidAmerican when it is dark outside, or when the sun isn't shining. They are using the grid in that instance. Or if they are producing excess energy, they are sending excess energy back to the grid. So they are really using twice as much as a regular consumer but paying nothing to use that grid."

But Forbes says that excess energy pushed back on the grid only saves money for companies like MidAmerican Energy, providing energy at a lower rate during peak demand times.

"What the studies have shown, that we've seen, it's almost net-neutral on the cost, the additional cost that's put on our electrical grid,” Forbes said. “There is less line loss with solar because it's being transferred not a 100 miles away, but it's being transferred maybe a few hundred feet away from where it's being generated.”

MidAmerican denies this negative impact on net metering, saying the bill does not change it at all, but one of the over 800 Iowans employed in the solar industry says this could hurt them.

"If this legislation were to pass that [bill], privately owned solar energy systems by homeowners, farmers, small businesses, etc. would, in all likelihood, become no longer economically viable,” Josh Clark, an Eastern Iowa Sales Manager for Simpleray, said. “The industry would contract greatly.”

One of the main users of solar power in Iowa are farmers. Forbes says he has talked to a few that are very concerned this bill will have a negative impact on them installing any more solar panels in the future.

The state is also two years into a three-year net metering study under the Iowa Utilities Board. Forbes says he would like to see this bill wait until the research is complete to determine whether changes to net metering are necessary. MidAmerican Energy says that study doesn't matter for this bill particularly because the bill won't affect net metering.

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