Iowa's clean energy sector employs 10,000, could create many more jobs with policy changes, group says
- Jan 14, 2021 8:13 am GMTJan 14, 2021 3:04 pm GMT
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Iowa has about 9,800 wind, solar and other clean energy jobs at 113 businesses, but changes in state and federal policy could drive that number much higher, a group behind a new study on the industry contends.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest environmental advocacy group, said in a report released Thursday that Iowa's clean energy businesses range from installers and blade manufacturers to engineering and design firms, repair services, construction firms and insurers.
While representing a small portion of Iowa's 1.5 million jobs, clean energy employment has about doubled since 2015, when the environmental law group reported Iowa had about 5,000 clean energy jobs at 100 companies.
"Iowa has some of the greatest potential for renewable energy in the nation," said Troy Van Beek, whose 25-employee alternative energy company, Ideal Energy in Fairfield, the group cited as an example of the growing field.
"We're a leader in wind power and ... we have all the solar potential in the world. When you combine that with hydrogen and battery storage, we have just an unprecedented opportunity to evolve the energy market," Van Beek said in a statement.
The environmental law group, based in Chicago, says legislators should expand the state solar energy tax credit program and update Iowa's renewable energy portfolio standard, first established in 1983, to include battery power storage, among other actions.
Solar advocates would like to see lawmakers double funding for the state solar tax credit program, which is capped at $5 million annually. Given the popularity and growth of rooftop solar panels, Iowans could claim about twice as much in credits as is currently available, said Steve Falck, ELPC's senior Iowa policy advocate.
Nearly 1,500 Iowans are waiting to claim about $5.2 million in solar tax credits, the Iowa Department of Revenue reported last month.
Expanding the solar tax credit program is "a good idea," said Iowa state Sen. Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat and ranking Ways and Means Committee member. "We need to provide incentives so more and more Iowans and businesses use renewable sources of energy. We need to get serious about climate change, and this is one way to do it."
Jochum added, however, that expanding tax credits this year could be difficult, especially with the state collecting fewer fuel, gambling and other tax receipts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Falck said the state should decouple its solar tax credits from the federal program. Congress is slated to end that program by 2022 for residential projects.
State and federal tax credits can now offset up to 45% of the cost for solar systems, ELPC says. Iowa caps its solar tax credits at $5,000 for residential projects and $20,000 for businesses.
Iowa's revenue department says the solar tax credit program has helped support $291 million in solar investment since it began in 2012.
Iowa already has seen billions of dollars invested in wind energy over the past two decades, with the industry employing about 9,000 people in 2019, the report released Thursday said. Solar companies employed about 800 workers.
In 2019, wind energy from about 5,100 turbines powered 42% of Iowa's net power generation, the highest share of any state, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. Wind is the largest source of electric generation in Iowa, surpassing coal at 35%.
Falck said one reason Iowa has increasingly turned to wind energy is because of the state's renewable portfolio standard. Beginning in 1983, the state mandated that Iowa's two investor-owned electric utilities own or contract for a combined total of 105 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity.
The state has far exceeded the target. At the beginning of 2020, Iowa had about 10,400 megawatts of utility-scale renewable energy generating capacity, the Energy Information Administration reported.
"We think that's why the state has become a leader in wind energy," Falck said. "That jump-started utilities looking at wind."
To remain a leader, Iowa needs to update the portfolio standard and include wrapping in energy storage, he said.
Storing solar energy in batteries at gas- or coal-fired power plants, for example, can help reduce costs for utilities and consumers, Falck said, providing energy that's needed when demand is highest and electricity is most expensive.
The group said the Iowa Economic Development Authority is analyzing the economic impact of storage systems, and the study will "give policymakers an economic rationale to accelerate the market for storage technology."