A new report from the Iowa Environmental Council is trying to make the case that the state should invest more money into solar power.
Iowa has an abundant solar resource, according to the report, Real Potential, Ready Today: Solar Energy in Iowa. So much so that it has been ranked in the top third of U.S. states for its technical potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy production, according to a GIS-Based Analysis.
Because so much solar energy reaches Iowa, the electricity generated by a solar PV system in Iowa performs favorably when compared with many other locations across the country. "A solar PV array located in Iowa produces a comparable amount of electricity as one located in Miami, Houston, Atlanta, and more than one located in Newark or Chicago," the report said.
The report makes the case for solar energy by siting the falling installation costs, which have decreased significantly in recent years, averaging about $4 per watt in 2012, down from $7.50 per watt in 2008. It also pointed out other benefits of producing solar energy, including creating jobs, saving consumers money, providing cleaner air and water, and creating new technology.
Iowa’s current electricity portfolio is made up of about 65 percent of coal-fired power plants, 25 percent of wind energy, and small portions of nuclear, natural gas, and hydropower. The environmental council believes that generating 5 percent of the state's electricity through solar is a realistic target.
The report recommended public policy points to better implement the use of solar power, including better access to utility incentives such as rebates and low-interest loans to supplement the federal and state tax incentives offered to individuals and businesses.
Local zoning and permitting are also important policies, the report said. "Some communities in Iowa have zoning ordinances, which create barriers for solar, such as restrictions on where solar can be installed on individual private property or in parts of the community.
The report recommended simplifying, streamlining, and standardizing the permitting and zoning requirements in communities across the state, to make solar energy easier and less expensive to install.The Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University provided funding for the report. The Iowa Environmental Council is an alliance of organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa's environment.