DES MOINES — Legislation to allow rate-regulated utilities to charge their solar customers an infrastructure fee was approved on a party-line vote Monday by the House Commerce Committee.

Unlike most utility legislation that gets complicated, Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, said House Study Bill 185 is simple.

“If you use it, you pay for it,” Mohr told the House Commerce Committee before it voted 12-10 to send the bill to the full House.

The legislation would allow rate-regulated utilities to charge solar customers about $330 a year to pay for their use of the electric grid, Mohr said. REC and municipal utility solar customers share in the infrastructure cost, he said, but customers of the rate-regulated utilities do not.

Current customers would be grandfathered in, so they would see no rate change.

However, Rep. John Forbes, D-Des Moines, said solar customers benefit utilities during peak loads. Typically, he said, peak demand is on sunny summer days at the same time solar customers are producing at a maximum. They push electrons back onto the grid at a much lower cost than utilities can buy electricity on the market — 3 cents versus the 20 cents to 21 cents — during peak demand, Forbes said.

The $330 per year fee probably would discourage investment in solar power because it would extend the payback for a typical residential solar power system from eight years to 14 years or longer, Forbes said.

“The fact the rest of us are subsidizing it is the reason why you get eight-year payback as opposed to a 14-year payback,” Mohr countered.

He also said the 800 jobs in the Iowa solar industry is about the same number as in wind energy in 2003. Now there are about 8,000.

“I would expect 15 years from now, solar energy will have 10 times the jobs it has today,” he said.

A similar bill, Senate Study Bill 1201, is under consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee.

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