Monday, April 29, 2019

Iowa utility urges law to penalize solar customers; similar battles going on in other states

Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy is known in Iowa as a proponent of renewable energy, since it has installed almost half the wind turbines in the state. But the utility wants state lawmakers to charge homeowners with solar panels an extra fee each month. The move highlights a sometimes adversarial relationship between the growing solar and wind power industries in several states.

"For years wind and solar were friendly twins in the campaign for green alternatives to fossil fuels, but the relationship is getting ugly in a number of states, especially in Iowa, where more than 4,000 turbines generate 34% of the state’s electricity, the second highest rate in the country," Scott McFetridge and David Pitt report for the Associated Press. "The acrimony comes as alternative energy sources are powering an increasing percentage of the country’s needs. Since 1990, the country’s wind energy capacity has grown from a tiny 0.2% to 6.5% in 2018, and in the past decade solar capacity has had an average annual growth rate of 50%. About 2 million solar systems have been installed on homes and businesses nationwide, with 3,700 in Iowa."

Utilities in other states are pushing similar bills to penalize solar customers, or decrease their incentive to produce solar power, by adding or increasing fees or paying them less for excess power they add to the grid, AP reports. Kentucky recently enacted such a bill after years of lobbying from utilities and resistance from citizens.

MidAmerican says the new fees, which would average about $27 a month, would go to maintaining the electrical grid. Since solar customers use that grid when selling excess power back to the utility, MidAmerican spokesperson Tina Hoffman told the AP that the fees are about "customer fairness . . . Paying for the grid if you use the grid is what this policy is about."

Todd Miller, who owns a solar panel business near Des Moines, said he thinks MidAmerican is more interested in cornering the market on energy production. He noted that a MidAmerican lobbyist said at a legislative hearing that the utility would use the profits from the extra fees to invest in large-scale solar projects. "They’re using that as the stepping stone to take over any and all solar," Miller told the AP. "If energy is being produced, they want to produce it."

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