Solar panels on hog building

DES MOINES — One thing Iowa lawmakers got done before suspending the session amid the COVID-19 pandemic this month was to unanimously pass a compromise bill regarding solar energy.

Senate File 583 was the result of months of discussion between utility companies, environmental groups, solar trade associations and farm organizations.

At its core, the bill puts net metering into law, says Kerri Johannsen, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council. With net metering, excess electricity is fed into the electric utility’s grid when a home- or farm-based system is producing more than needed. Pricing is another aspect of net metering. System owners want to get paid the same for the energy they produce as they have to pay for the energy they buy from the utility.

The bill also provides some protection regarding what it means to net meter and it creates a new type of inflow-outflow accounting.

The bill grandfathers all existing customers with their current agreements. New customers using net metering and the new inflow-outflow system would be able to supply their own energy needs and would receive credit for the energy they supply to the grid while paying for energy delivered by the utility.

The bill also calls for a Value of Solar study to be done and to be overseen by the Iowa Utilities Board using a third-party consultant.

The process began last year when a bill was proposed and supported by utilities that drew the opposition of solar proponents. The Iowa Pork Producers Association joined solar and environmental groups in opposing that bill.

The opposition of the farm groups was important, according to Johannsen.

But what happened next was just as important. After the 2019 legislative session drew to a close, the various organizations involved got together and started talking.

“It was an eight- or nine-month process,” says Drew Mogler, public policy director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

At the end of that process the groups were able to present lawmakers with a compromise proposal that included certainty for pork producers and other farmers and homeowners who might desire to install solar panels or a wind turbine on their property, Mogler says.

“It gives pork producers certainty,” he says.

By establishing those rules, the new law should provide certainty for farmers who install new solar panels, Johnannsen says.

“It also shows that it pays to come into the legislative session prepared,” she says.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.