New law will reduce payback for solar power systems

Iowa home and business owners can expect small solar power systems to pay for themselves more quickly, thanks to a new law Governor Terry Branstad signed last Friday.

Senate File 2342 passed the Iowa Senate and House late in the legislative session, thanks to some impressive horse-trading. Negotiators agreed to combine a sales tax exemption for car washes (a priority for House Republicans) with language providing state income tax credits for new solar systems as well as tax credits and property tax exemptions for new geothermal energy systems.

According to Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg, $1.5 million in state solar energy tax credits are available under the new law. Homeowners can claim tax credits of up to $3,000 per solar project. Business owners can claim tax credits of up to $15,000 per project. Existing federal tax credits for solar power installations further sweeten the deal. Speaking at a public event in Cedar Rapids yesterday, Hogg said the tax incentives “remove the economic barrier” to installing solar systems.

Brad Duggan, energy efficiency project manager at Van Meter Inc. in Cedar Rapids, predicted that Iowa’s new law “will push the market” for residential solar systems. He estimated that homeowners “could realize a return on investment in as little as six years on a solar system guaranteed for at least 25 years.”

Yesterday’s event took place at Paulson Electric, where Democratic State Representative Tyler Olson works. That company is reaping the benefits from an investment in solar power.

“It’s actually performed better than our original assumptions,” said Project Manager Robert Dix showing off the company’s 20.7 kW solar energy system.

  The sprawl of solar pannels on the roof of their building accounts for about 1/3 of the company’s electric consumption.  While is was a bit expensive to put in, they expect the system to pay for itself in a matter of only 6 years; that’s one year less than they were originally quoted.

Dix said Iowa’s new law “would have decreased our payback by almost 3 years” on the solar project.

For those who want to learn more about installing a small solar system, the non-profit Iowa Renewable Energy Association is holding its annual Renewable Energy Expo at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids from June 8 through June 10. Quite a few speakers and workshops will focus on solar power; click here for the full speaker schedule (pdf). Tim Dwight will give one of the keynote addresses on June 9 at 1 pm. Best known as a former football player for the University of Iowa and several teams in the NFL, Dwight has become a solar industry developer and advocate. As president of the Iowa Solar / Small Wind Energy Trade Association, Dwight has lobbied state legislators to support small-scale renewable energy production. Last year he helped publicize a study that showed huge economic potential for solar power in Iowa. The full report is available here (pdf).

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