Report: Rooftop solar systems becoming more popular in Iowa – The Gazette

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Iowa ranked 27th in the country with its 308 gigawatt-hours of solar in 2022

Chris Larson (left) and Levi Detweiler position a solar panel July 6, 2023, as a crew from Eagle Point Solar installs solar panels on the roof of a home in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
Chris Larson (left) and Levi Detweiler position a solar panel July 6, 2023, as a crew from Eagle Point Solar installs solar panels on the roof of a home in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

The energy generated by small-scale solar energy systems — including on rooftops — have grown more than 300 percent in Iowa over the last decade, according to a new report from nonprofits Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.

The nation’s share of power originating from U.S. small-scale solar systems increased tenfold between 2012 and 2022, reaching more than 61,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity, the report found based on U.S. Energy Information Administration data. That’s enough electricity to power 5.7 million homes — nearly four times more than all the housing units reported in Iowa in 2022. Rooftop solar comprised 64 percent of that energy.

California, Arizona, New York Massachusetts and New Jersey marked the top five states for small-scale solar generation in 2022. Iowa ranked 27th with its 308 gigawatt-hours and 23rd for generation per 100,000 residents.

Most of Iowa’s small-scale solar generation — 173 gigawatt-hours of it — appeared on commercial facilities like warehouses, superstores and other retail buildings. Two-thirds of those systems went online between 2017 and 2022. The state ranks 17th for its commercial solar.

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Residential solar was the next most popular type of system in Iowa, comprising 123 gigawatt-hours in 2022. The state tied for 31st throughout the nation in this category. Again, the majority of these systems were built after 2017.

The remaining 12 gigawatt-hours of Iowa’s small-scale solar generation in 2022 belonged to the industrial sector, which includes agriculture, construction and manufacturing. Iowa tied for 21st nationally and was among the top states with the fastest growth in this type of generation between 2014 and 2022.

Iowa Environmental Council’s energy policy counsel Steve Guyer, who owns and leads GWA International in Altoona, said the report accurately reflects Iowa’s existing investments in small-scale solar systems and confirms trends he has seen.

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Why has Iowa seen a recent push in installations, he asked?

In his experience, Guyer has seen customers invest in solar for reasons spanning environmental causes to economic benefits. Iowa’s pork industry in particular has capitalized on rooftop solar to lower electric costs, especially as manufacturing prices for the tech continue to fall, he said. The state has also seen spikes in solar energy activity when it offers tax credits and its utilities offer rebates and net metering.

“It’s a little ebb and flow that we’ve seen through the years,” Guyer said about solar trends in the state. “The Inflation Reduction Act certainly will have a big impact moving forward.”

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act offers a 30 percent federal tax credit for residential, commercial and agricultural solar projects for the next 10 years. The law also allows some tax-exempt entities — like churches, nonprofits and local governments — to receive compensation for such projects. Last April, solar companies in Eastern Iowa reported upticks in local demand for the projects.

In their report, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group advocated for more rooftop solar to reduce strains on the power grid, save electric customers money, increase grid resilience and reduce the amount of land taken up by energy sources. They also pushed for more pro-solar policies at the state level, including solar incentives, net metering, simpler permitting processes and more support connecting new generation to the power grid.

Brittney J. Miller is the Energy & Environment Reporter for The Gazette and a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.

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