solar panels

In 2019, about 2 percent of Iowa’s net electricity generation came from biomass and solar energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The Jackson County Energy District wants to see that number grow.

The group received a stamp of approval from the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to help the public obtain discounts on solar array installation.

The Jackson County Energy District sought the board’s endorsement to join the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). Such an affiliation may help Jackson County residents obtain reduced rates on solar array installation or at least get residents thinking about solar energy, said Monmouth resident Bruce Fisher, chairman of the district’s six-member board.

“Solar power is surging and we want to be part of that wave,” Fisher told the supervisors. He said about 30 local people expressed an interest in installing solar arrays at their farms, homes, or businesses earlier this year during the KMAQ Farm & Home Show in Maquoketa.

That furthers the group’s goal — to transition Jackson County to 100% local, renewable energy by 2050, according to Fisher. It further aligns with the MREA, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit group promoting renewable energy and providing education and training in the subject area.

The affiliation offers a strategy to make solar installations more affordable through the concept of volume discounts, Fisher explained. It’s called a “power buy” in which the more solar arrays are installed in Jackson County, the less expensive that installation is for the consumer.

“(Installation) starts out at 10% less than if you buy it on your own,” Fisher said. That percentage discount increases as more people take part, but there’s no minimum number of participants, and savings usually come in the form of rebates, he added.

The MREA sends out requests for proposals to solar array installers and negotiates costs with those installers, providing legal help and expertise along the way.

Affiliating with the MREA “doesn’t cost the energy district or citizens anything,” Fisher said. The installer pays MREA a commission, he explained. Consumers pay only the cost of installation.

Fisher said the county could complete as many as 20 solar array installations yet this year if people commit to the project, adding that 2020 is the year to do it because of state and federal financial incentives.

Individuals who sign up for installation must install this year. Interested businesses can sign a contract for installation this year and install next year.

Iowa offers solar tax credits to help homeowners install solar on their homes. It provides some cash back in the first year. In addition, the federal government is offering a 26% tax credit for the same purpose; that tax credit sunsets at the end of this year.

“The tax incentives will incline. We want to mobilize people that now is the time to do it,” Fisher said.

“I don’t see any downside, no cost (to the county),” Supervisors Chairman Mike Steines said in support of the effort.

Fisher and fellow Jackson County Energy District member Mike Griffin of Springbrook plan to host informative “solar power hour” meetings for the public via video conference in coming months. They want to reach every city, farmer, and business owner to spread the word, they said.

They have begun talking with some county municipalities and received positive feedback about the affiliation thus far, Fisher said.

For more information about the energy district, visit jacksoncounty.energydistrict.org.