June 1, 2012

Iowa new state tax credit policy makes solar a better investment

There is, after all, something new under the sun -- a tax credit that energy companies and lawmakers say makes installing solar energy systems on homes and businesses an affordable investment.

"A lot of people have been looking at solar energy systems and now, with the state tax credits, they're starting to move forward," Brad Duggan, energy efficiency project manager at Van Meter Inc. in Cedar Rapids said Tuesday. "It makes solar ripe for the residential use. I think it will push the market."
That was the goal of the tax credit approved by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad last week, according to Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who hosted a news conference on the credits at Paulson Electric in southwest Cedar Rapids.

"This works for Iowa," Hogg said, because the federal tax credits of up to 30 percent combined with the new state credit of 15 percent "remove the economic barrier" to installing solar energy systems.

In addition to allowing businesses and homeowners to cut electric bills, the systems are good for the environment and jobs creation, added Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids.

At Paulson Electric, where he works, Olson said, a rooftop 20KW photovoltaic system with 90 panels generates about one-third of the electricity the company uses. It also reduces annual emissions by about 500 tons of carbon monoxide, or the equivalent of taking 92 cars off the roads.

The tax credit would have shortened Paulson's return on investment by about three years, Olson added.

That's true for residential systems, too, Dugan said. He estimated homeowner could realize a return on investment in as little as six years on a solar system guaranteed for at least 25 years.

A residential system that costs an estimated $12,000 to buy and install can cut electric usage by as much 25 percent to 50 percent, added Warren McKenna of Farmer's Electric Cooperative in Kalona.

Although many Iowans have been installing solar systems, McKenna and Duggan expect the tax credit to spur sales. Lawmakers estimated hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs as a result.

Senate File 2342, which passed the Iowa Senate 45-1 and the Iowa House 82-14, provides state tax credits for solar electric, solar hot water, and geothermal energy systems. Iowans are now eligible for solar tax credits up to $3,000 per project for homeowners and $15,000 for businesses.

The bill also provides a tax credit up to 20 percent of a federal tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, and a 10-year property tax exemption for any increased valuation due to geothermal heating or cooling systems.

Iowans can learn more about solar energy at the I-RENEW 20th Anniversary Renewable Energy Expo at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids June 8-10. For more information, visit www.irenew.org.


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