Reminder, Iowa: New net metering cap rules to go in effect this April

Iowa solar energy net metering

Net metering seems to be slowly losing its political favor. We turn to Iowa today where the state’s Utilities Board accepted a proposed rule change from Alliant Energy would place an arbitrary cap on net metering in order to curtail the number of residents able to make the move.

Why the change?

Under the current rules, net metering has a natural cap of a customer’s total annual energy usage — how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity are used in a year.

According to the Gazette, the utilities board asked Iowa’s utilities last summer to develop net metering pilot projects, but “for the purpose of expanding renewable distributed generation in Iowa.” According to the board, the aim was to clarify Iowa’s net metering rules and encourage development of more solar and wind projects. The Gazette doesn’t mince words about the likely outcome of these new rules and how its editorial board feels about them.

 

 

Under the new rules, the net metering cap for residential and small business customers will be based on a percentage of the customer’s annual energy usage. We’ve calculated that the change will reduce available net metering by 62 percent for residential customers and by 68 percent for small business customers. Solar installations larger than the cap won’t make financial sense.

Here’s an example: Under the current rules a typical Iowa household using about 12,000 kWh of electricity per year could purchase a 10 kW solar installation that would save the family $1,560 in the first year and pay for itself completely within 10-11 years. Under the new rules, only 3.43 kW of the same 10 kW installation would be eligible for net metering, and would save the same family only $979 per year, taking 18-19 years to pay for itself.

It gets worse. If a customer builds a smaller system that matches the new net-metering caps, that customer still has to pay all of the same fixed costs, including the grid interconnection, feasibility study, and more. The smaller the system, the higher the cost per watt. Small solar systems simply hit a point where they are not financially viable. On top of that, Alliant Energy increased the fees for its solar interconnection process from $50 to $425 or more for a typical residential project.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Iowa Utilities Board accepts proposal that will cap growing net metering program

The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) recently accepted a proposed rule change from Alliant Energy, one of Iowa’s two major electric utility providers. This new ruling will drastically change how net metering works in Alliant Energy’s service territory and will reduce the financial viability of new solar installations. The new rules are scheduled to go into effect on April 1 of this year (but are no joke!). Alliant Energy services over 488,000 electrical customers across Iowa.

Iowa solar energy net metering

Solar industry insiders are surprised by the IUB’s decision. Solar is a growing industry and many of Iowa’s neighbors, Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri, have adopted pro-solar policies. Forbes recently reported that, “In the United States, more people were employed in solar power last year than in generating electricity through coal, gas and oil energy combined.”

RELATED: Solar vs. the state: Regulatory news in Utah, Maine, Maryland 

Net metering was encouraged in 2016

In 2016, the IUB asked Iowa’s utilities to develop net metering pilot projects “for the purpose of expanding renewable distributed generation (DG) in Iowa.” According to the IUB, the aim was to encourage development of more solar and wind projects. Alliant Energy’s proposal will have the opposite effect, according to solar industry experts.

Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing of Pilot Grove, Iowa, saves over $90,000 per year with its solar 400 kW installation. The savings have been used for more training and more jobs. Similar economic boosts for rural communities like Pilot Grove are desperately needed throughout Iowa, but now they’re off the table with the new net metering ruling.

What Alliant wants to do

Alliant Energy’s new net metering rules will add a cap on how much solar generation is eligible for net metering. Under current rules, net metering is naturally capped by a customer’s total annual energy usage – how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity are used in a year. Under the new, more complex rules, net metering will be capped based on an arbitrary percentage of a customer’s annual energy usage the year prior to the solar installation. Typical small business and residential customers will see a 65-70% reduction in net metering eligibility.

Channing Congdon, Director of Design at Ideal Energy, one of Iowa’s most senior solar firms, said that the result will be a 70% or greater reduction in solar installations for residential and light commercial customers in Alliant Energy’s Iowa service territory. “You typically only want to install what you can net meter,” he said. He went on to say that because of the reduction in system size and the fixed costs associated with each solar project, “this ruling effectively ends residential solar for Alliant.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Iowa’s largest utility-scale solar project installed with Solar FlexRack’s G3 Fixed Tilt system

Solar FlexRack Installed in the largest solar project in Iowa

The largest utility-scale solar power generation project in Iowa, a 2.3-MW plant (the largest of the series, which will include five systems and total 5.5 MW) was just installed using Solar FlexRack’s G3 Fixed Tilt system. When completed, the five solar electric plants will reduce over 5 million tons of carbon emissions annually.

Developed and installed by Azimuth Energy, the installations under construction are primarily located in the central and eastern regions of the Hawkeye State. Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO), Iowa’s largest cooperative energy provider, will commission the carbon-free, solar plants and the clean energy will be delivered to their membership. CIPCO is part of a powerful movement among electric cooperatives to procure sustainable solar power as a part of their energy offering. (Cooperatives across the US have over 500 MW of solar power installed or in the works.)

RELATED: New single-axis tracker, turnkey service launched by Solar FlexRack 

The G3 Fixed Tilt

One of the most cost-effective racking solutions, Solar FlexRack’s G3 Series was independently verified for its ease and speed of installation.

Steve Daniel, EVP of Solar FlexRack said, “We are pleased to have been selected for these projects by an engineering, construction and development support services company as dedicated to quality work and customer service as Azimuth Energy. The rigors of their quality assurance program distinguishes their work and helps to ensure long-term project reliability.”

“We work closely with our clients and want to ensure we find the best solutions for their needs. Solar FlexRack met our demanding requirements, providing the most versatile solution with the ability to accommodate varying terrains and duplicate design configurations – reducing engineering time and installation cost,” said Marc Lopata, President, Azimuth Energy.

— Solar Builder magazine

Iowa’s largest utility-scale solar project chooses Solectria inverters

Yaskawa – Solectria Solar, a leading commercial PV inverter manufacturer, announced at Intersolar North America that its transformerless three-phase inverters were chosen for Central Iowa Power Cooperative’s (CIPCO) utility-scale solar project that spans five sites across its service delivery territory. The five sites total 5.56 MW and are part of CIPCO’s plan to incorporate emissions-free resources to their assets.

Yaskawa - Solectria SolarYaskawa – Solectria Solar’s inverters were chosen by the largest EPC firm in the Tri-State area, Azimuth Energy of St. Louis, based on design flexibility, reliability, MPPT granularity, decreased BOS costs and allowing a robust energy production during maintenance. Azimuth Energy has used Yaskawa’s inverters on other projects.

“We’re pleased to work with Yaskawa – Solectria Solar again on this group of utility-scale projects,” said Marc Lopata, PE President of Azimuth Energy. “We’ve found their products and support to be top notch and unmatched by any other inverter supplier in the industry. By utilizing Yaskawa, we’ve met all production and uptime targets on previously completed utility-scale projects.”

RELATED: Yaskawa-Solectria adds new cost-saving features to string combiner lines 

“The CIPCO project demonstrates the advantages of using Yaskawa’s inverters in utility-scale systems,” stated Mark Goodreau, Director of Sales of Yaskawa – Solectria Solar. “Yaskawa’s transformerless inverter solutions reduce Balance of System and O&M costs while maximizing energy production. These significant benefits are crucial to EPCs and system owners when choosing suppliers for long-term investments.”

— Solar Builder magazine

VIDEO: Check out Iowa’s largest community solar project, built by SunLink and RER Energy Group

More than 1,200 Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) customers have invested in a new 1.5-MW DC community solar project near Prairie Lakes Park in Cedar Falls, Iowa, now completed by SunLink Corp. and RER Energy Group. The project utilized SunLink’s GeoPro mounting system and was installed by the company’s PowerCare installation crews. RER Energy Group and partner company Sunvestment Energy Group (SEG) provided project development, project management and financing for this unique community solar array.

“Community solar projects have been identified as the next largest solar growth market in the U.S., and SunLink is at the forefront of helping to accelerate this movement with flexible mounting solutions and installation services that extend our partners’ ability to take on a larger volume of small commercial and community solar projects like this one in Iowa,” said SunLink CEO Michael Maulick. “RER and SEG made the development of this community solar project simple, from project design to installation and financing, and we commend their ability to advance this project on such a rapid timeline.”

RELATED: SEPA report: How to improve community solar models 

From its inception, the CFU Simple Solar community solar initiative was met with enthusiasm from CFU customers. The solar unit price was decreased from $399 to $270 thanks to economies of scale. Customers who purchased units will receive a monthly credit on their CFU electric bills for 20 years based on the output from the solar panels, and all of the clean energy from the solar project will be used within the community.

“We are proud to help provide a community asset to the people of Cedar Falls that will not only provide savings benefits for the next few decades but also create a cleaner environment for the entire community,” said Jim Kurtz, president of RER Energy Group.

According to Mike Barnes, project manager for RER, “The partnership with SunLink was a main driver in this project’s overall success. Their installation service was excellent.”

Trusted in connection with GWs of PV projects, SunLink’s GeoPro fixed tilt solution solves a wide-range of challenges associated with ground-mount projects, including irregular site boundaries, steep or uneven terrain, last-minute module changes, pile driving refusals and snow loads of up to 50 psf. The system provided the PowerCare team with maximum flexibility during a fast-tracked installation in the height of Iowa’s winter.

“Installing solar in harsh environmental conditions, such as wintertime in Iowa, requires collaborative and adaptive on-site management to uphold the quality and safety standards the PowerCare team is known for. For the CFU install, accurate on-site troubleshooting and rapid engineering responses were critical to mitigate post refusals in frozen soil, for example, illustrating the effectiveness of our team to get the job done right and on time,” added SunLink Senior Manager of Field Services Keith Beisner.

— Solar Builder magazine