TV ads supporting new solar energy bill spark controversy

MOLINE, Illinois -- Recent TV ads paid for by a group called "The REAL Coalition" push for what opponents are calling the "Sunshine Tax" bill.

Julian Vandervelde, Market President with Moxie Solar, knows that solar panels have the potential to power an entire house, and then some.

"The excess is plugged directly into the meter," Vandervelde said. "Flushes back out into the grid from there."

That grid stores and feed extra energy from the sun. The new bill would allow utility companies to charge private solar users to pay an additional charge for using that grid.

TV advertisements have been airing saying in part: "Did you know people with solar don’t pay to use power lines like the rest of us… or to keep the power grids safe and running? That makes our bills more expensive."

Vandervelde said he has seen the recent flow of advertisements and he said he feels the public is being misled.

"Misleading is an understatement. It's lying. It's just blatant, outright lies," Vandervelde said. "You're actually taking pressure off during times when peak usage is occurring because that's when solar works its best."

MidAmerican is the number one energy provider in Iowa and has openly supported the new bill. Tonight, the company has given News 8 a statement saying in part:

"Think of the grid like our highway system – drivers who use the roads pay to ensure they are safe and secure, whether they are coming or going. The electric grid system is no different – a traditional customer uses the grid system in one direction, while private generators use the grid system in two directions as they send the excess energy they produce to the grid and they take energy from it when they can’t generate enough of their own... We think this policy change is important because under current state policy, private generators do not pay electric grid costs, which creates a shift in costs onto all other traditional customers." -- Geoff Greenwood, Media Relations Manager

Still, Vandervelde said not everyone is as supportive.

"I have yet to meet anyone - we have yet to meet anyone who is actually supportive of the bill," Vandervelde said. "So it's not really people behind this. It's money pushing it forwards. So when you track that money backwards to whose going to benefit from this, it’s not the people of Iowa. The people who benefit from this are those large utility companies that already have their monopoly in place and want to maintain that."

Homeowners who already have solar panels installed will not be affected as they are grandfathered in. MidAmerican said:

For those who install panels after the effective date, should it become law, regulated utility customers with private generation would have a menu of options:
1.    A buy-all/sell-all arrangement, where a customer would have separate metering for their usage and generation so that they purchase all their energy needs and sell all of their generation to the utility.
2.    A minimum infrastructure charge, where a customer pays a minimum amount to the utility to cover costs associated with grid usage.
3.    A multi-part rate, which recovers grid costs based on the customer’s monthly demand and aligns costs with the customer’s use of the system.

Vendervelde said if the bill passes, solar customers would pay more than $300 dollars extra per year. The bill did pass the full Senate and passed through House committee. Next, it will need to reach the full House floor for debate.

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