Here are the 5 steps in the evaluation process
Iowa law encourages the development of renewable energy sources and doesn’t allow utility consumers to be subject to discriminatory, disadvantageous or prejudicial rates or terms for utility services based on a consumer’s use or intended use of renewable energy resources. But it’s your job to figure out what approach will work best for your family.
1. Maximize energy efficiency. Completion of a thorough energy efficiency audit is an important precursor to considering a solar energy system. Implementing energy efficiency measures in advance of installing a solar energy system can save you money and reduce the size of the solar energy system you’ll need to meet your energy needs.
2. Check with local authorities. Plan a visit with your local authorities to learn the requirements for obtaining a building permit and to learn if there are any local ordinances that either may prevent the construction of a solar array or limit its size, location, visibility and setbacks. If your community has not addressed development of residential solar, you may experience delays while rules and requirements are developed. If you live in a platted development, you also should check for building restrictions and other requirements in the covenants put in place by the developer of the plat. You’ll find them in the abstract to your property.
3. Check with your local electric cooperative. Schedule a personal visit with your electric co-op. During your visit, obtain information that may affect the location, size and cost of the array; the value of the energy generated by the array; the safety issues that need to be addressed; and any additional fees or costs that might be incurred with interconnection of a solar energy system.
Iowa law requires that the owner must provide written notice to the utility no later than 30 days prior to the commencement of construction or installation of an alternate energy production facility, including a solar array. Iowa’s utilities have an obligation to interconnect, and the Iowa Utilities Board has a streamlined process for interconnection of a solar energy system; if you have a question about interconnection requirements, contact the Iowa Utilities Board at 515-725-7321 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, you need to learn about the following things:
- What will your electric rate be after the array is connected to the grid, and will the array change your usage rate and monthly service charge?
- How will you be compensated for excess generation, and what is the buyback rate for excess generation sold to the utility? For example, if net metering is offered, learn if banking excess generation is allowed and how often the account is settled (monthly, annually or never). If settlement dates are applied annually, identify which month is used and if there are choices related to the settlement month.
- If net metering is not offered, learn what the selling and purchasing rates will be for the net billing policy and if the points of settlement are monthly or annual. It’s imperative to talk to your utility to understand how your load profile will work with your settlement month.
- What effect will the solar energy system have on the current rates under which you’re purchasing electric service from your electric co-op and on any end-use rates that you may be receiving, such as electric heat and geothermal rates?
- If you’re on a demand or time-of-use rate, will your bill be impacted?
- If you have multiple meters or sub-meters, how many meters do you anticipate may be offset by a single solar array interconnection? Or, how may multiple meters and sub-meters be combined to offset more loads – and what are the electric rate implications for doing so?
- Does your utility offer a community-based solar opportunity or green-pricing program? A community-based solar program may afford you the benefits of a solar array without the maintenance responsibilities.
Note that the information you receive from your electric co-op will represent current rates and tariffs. With the appropriate approval, rate structures and tariffs may be adjusted over time to reflect changes in your utility’s cost of providing service.
4. Understand your electric utility bill and your electricity usage patterns. Review 1 to 2 years of historical usage and cost records. This history will help you understand how much electricity you’re using – and when you’re using it. You also should talk to your co-op to gain an understanding of the potential for future rate increases, as this will affect the economics of your project.
If you’re looking to reduce your peak demand with a solar installation, you’ll want to make sure you understand the time and duration of your historical peak demand and understand if the expected output of your solar energy system will adequately serve that purpose. Before purchasing a system, it’s critical to speak with your co-op to understand how solar energy generation will be applied to your bill. This will help you to develop a realistic estimate of potential savings from a solar energy system.
5. Prepare for a site assessment. After completing your initial research, a preliminary site assessment will help to determine the parameters and constraints that need to be considered during the design, bidding and construction phases.
Get your free copy of the Solar PV Energy Guide
You may read the book online or download a complete PDF copy at the website of the Iowa Energy Center; click here or go to www.iowaenergycenter.org. In the Search box at the top of the page, enter the name of the book: Solar PV Energy Guide. In addition, a limited number of printed copies are available at your local electric cooperative’s office.