The Center for Rural Affairs, a nonprofit group, recently hosted a tour of solar projects installed in northwest Iowa. Staff members were joined by several members of the Iowa legislature and a representative from U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office. Solar installers, project developers, and members of the local electric cooperative were also on hand.
In 2012, the Iowa state legislature created the Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credit. Designed to encourage local investment, the credit offsets up to 15% of the cost of a new installation. Legislators included limits of $5,000 per home or $20,000 per business to ensure accessibility.
According to the Center for Rural Affairs, this incentive led to over 2,500 new solar projects between 2012 and 2016. The new installments are spread across the state, with at least one in 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties. In total, the approximately $16.4 million provided by the solar tax incentive has generated over $123 million of private investment, the group adds.
One project is located on the Joe and Dianne Rotta farm near Merrill, Iowa. The Rottas farm 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans and have a 24,000-hog operation. In cooperation with a local solar developer, they recently built a combined 121 kW installment to meet their energy needs. They used net metering, and any excess is banked for use during the harvest season when grain drying and augering systems increase energy demand.
The farm has been in Dianne’s family since 1884. During that time, it has seen a lot of changes.
During the tour, Joe and Dianne listed the reasons why solar worked for them. They pointed to independence and the ability to act as their own electric provider. They acknowledged the flexibility and autonomy. But, in the end, it came down to cost.
“Once it’s paid off, it’s yours,” Dianne explained. “We would not have went forward unless it made sense financially. We see this primarily as a way to control inputs and lower costs.”
Because of the Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credit, the pay-off period is shorter than ever, according to Johnathan Hladik, Center for Rural Affairs policy director. Combining a state or local incentive with the federal investment tax credit can offset costs by up to 45%. This reduces the payback period by two years.
The price of installed solar has fallen significantly over the years, and farm, home, and business owners have taken notice. Due to growing demand, the industry now employs thousands of individuals across the country, including hundreds who live in Iowa, many of them rural.
“This is what opportunity looks like in rural communities across the Midwest and Great Plains,” Hladik said. “Joe and Dianne found a way to lower costs and improve their bottom line. They identified a local business that could help them do it. It’s a win-win for Merrill and northwest Iowa.”
He continued, “The Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credit is a small investment that creates a big return. The result is a new industry in the state’s rural towns. Smart policy like this is what helps keep our communities strong.”
Solar farm tour photo courtesy of the Center for Rural Affairs