As members of the Pella Electric Cooperative Association, we’re hopeful our co-op will engage in an open and unbiased discussion about our energy future. Pella Co-op recently proposed to tack an $85 charge on the monthly bills of those having renewable energy systems. While the Pella Co-op has, at least temporarily, withdrawn the $85 monthly charge, it has created urgency to the conversation about our energy future. As our neighbors in rural Iowa demonstrate how to move towards our energy future, Pella Co-op’s proposal would have sent us backwards.
We know the value of solar energy. One of us has already invested in solar on our property. One of us has helped Central College install solar, connected to Pella Co-op’s system several years ago and would like to invest in solar at home in the future. Despite the many benefits of a diversified energy supply, Pella Co-op proposed an $85 per month charge for any member with a renewable energy system. This charge would have only applied to customers who exercise their right to put renewable energy such as solar on their property. The proposed charge was so high it would have put a stop to renewable energy. It would make the pursuit of solar energy, or wind turbines uneconomic for any member of Pella Co-op. Even worse, for members who have already installed renewable energy, it would be cheaper to take out the system than to pay this unreasonable monthly charge. Based on our experience, the fee would be double the energy offsets and credits generated by a small home system. This charge would send us backwards, and Pella Co-op should permanently abandon this proposal.
Pella Co-op claims this charge is based on a “cost of service study,” but it will not publicly share the study that is the supposed basis for the charge. Pella Co-op’s flawed rationale also fails to take into account any of the many benefits of solar. For example, solar provides power on hot, sunny days when power is most valuable; and a diverse energy supply makes the electric grid more secure, resilient, and reliable. Truth is, no data has been presented publicly to support this extreme charge.
What’s worse, Pella Co-op even ignores the fact that it currently brings in money when a member installs solar. That is because 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. Right now Pella Co-op pays 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour for excess solar and sells it for 10.1 cents. The member who installs solar has paid all the costs to do so, but Pella Co-op is the one who gets to keep nearly 7 cents on every unit of excess energy. Members installing renewables are providing Pella Co-op and all its members a benefit but instead of getting credit for that benefit, Pella Co-op proposed to charge these members $85 per month.
To our knowledge, Pella Co-op’s $85 charge would have been the most extreme anti-solar, anti-renewable energy fee anywhere in the country. For comparison, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission recently rejected a $5 monthly fee that a Minnesota coop was charging its solar customers.
Thankfully, there is another way, and Pella Co-op could be a part of rural Iowa’s leadership on solar with a change in approach. Farmers Electric Cooperative (FEC) based in Kalona, Iowa operates one of the state’s largest solar arrays and over 100 of its members have purchased a share in a “community solar garden,” which generates credits for their monthly bills. In addition, FEC pays members 8 cents per kilowatt hour more than double what Pella currently pays its members for the energy generated by solar projects on their property. These policies have allowed FEC to lower wholesale power costs and keep grid reliability among the best of all our state’s rural electric co-ops.
Rural Iowa has a history of leading on clean energy from wind to biofuels. We think solar can provide similar benefits if we work together to make it happen. We appreciate that Pella Co-op has withdrawn the $85 charge for the time being. We urge Pella Co-op to take the next step and permanently shelve the extreme anti-solar $85 monthly charge and work with us to support solar energy solutions that will benefit all Pella Co-op members. Working together, all of Pella Co-op’s members can enjoy the benefits of solar, and we can continue Iowa’s proud tradition of leading the way on clean energy.