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Pella Puts Proposed Solar Charges on Hold

September 2, 2015 By Cheryl Kaften

Late on August 27, Pella Electric Cooperative informed the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) that it intended to withdraw its controversial proposal to charge ratepayers with solar panels $85 month.

The utility had sent a letter to its 3,000 members last June, informing them that the fixed charge would be levied against anyone installing solar panels after August 15.

“Families and businesses that have [cut] energy costs …, bringing us closer to energy independence with solar, will not be punished for making a choice that is better for budgets and for the environment,” commented Bryce Engbers, one of Pella’s 3,000 members statewide and a pork producer who has solar panels.

Mike Lubberden, another solar Pella member, commended the move, but pointed out that the cooperative should alter the way it looks at solar. “This would have been the most extreme anti-solar, anti-renewable energy fee anywhere in the country,” he said, adding, “Pella Electric Cooperative Association should permanently drop this proposal, and instead take an approach that captures the value of solar energy for all coop members.”

Josh Mandelbaum of the Environmental Law & Policy Center expressed hope that Pella Electric Cooperative’s withdrawal of the proposal was an indication that the coop has reevaluated its approach. “There are better ways to prepare for the energy future than imposing punitive and unjustified fees on members who are leading the way on renewable energy. We look forward to working with the Pella Electric Cooperative to identify ways to bring the benefits of solar to all of the coop’s members.”

Mandelbaum noted that solar now creates revenue for the cooperative. Currently, he said, Pella “buys excess solar energy at a rock-bottom price and sells it at a premium any time the member’s system produces more energy than the member uses.”

The utility, Mandelbaum claimed, pays 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (KWh) for excess solar and sells it for 10.1 cents. The member who installs solar has paid all the costs to do so, and the coop keeps nearly 7 cents on every unit of excess energy.

Finally, Nathaniel Baer, Energy Program director for the Iowa Environmental Council also lauded the decision to drop the solar charge. “This proposal was never supported by data showing it was needed; in fact, we are confident that solar is bringing value to the coop. We hope that this opens the door to a larger discussion of how we can bring more solar to rural electric coops across the state.”

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