The large wind farms we see from the highway are just part of the story. A smaller scale, on-farm generation of electricity from wind, solar, biomass, and bio-gas is also spreading across the state.
I recently met some farmers and the businesses working with them at a meeting in Kalona on Aug. 14. The meeting was sponsored by the Farm Energy Working Group, a partnership between farmers and our universities, including the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, ISU Extension, and the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at UNI.
We heard first from Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona. They reported six of their customers already generate electricity through solar and wind. Statewide, more than 200 customers have interconnection agreements with rural electric cooperatives to generate electricity from renewable energy sources.
Farmers Electric also invites its customers to buy part of a "solar garden" located at its main office building. Participants invest $375 to purchase a solar module in the "garden." Their return is savings of up to $4.68 on their monthly utility bills -- a payback of 7-10 years for helping produce clean, homegrown electricity. More than 10% of Farmers Electric's customers have made the investment, and more are on the waiting list.
At the Kalona meeting, I also talked with representatives from three Iowa companies -- Geode Energy in Danville, Blake Electric in Waukon, and RJ Construction in Marion -- which install solar systems. You can find other businesses doing similar work through the Iowa Solar and Small Wind Trade Association at www.iowaseta.org.
Are you wondering if your farm or business could profit by generating electricity from renewable energy? The Iowa Energy Center has a solar and wind calculator at its web site to help landowners assess their property's potential. Additional information is available from the Iowa Renewable Energy Association at www.irenew.org.
In Kalona, we also heard from The Energy Group of Des Moines, which works with farmers on energy efficiency improvements for grain dryers, lighting, heating, and other systems with the help of the USDA Rural Energy for America Program. Kate Sand with the USDA Rural Development office in Indianola, 515-961-5365, can help you find out how to save energy and increase profits.
This spring, the Iowa Legislature created a new solar energy tax credit. Senate File 2342 provides a state tax credit to match the existing federal tax credit for newly installed solar energy systems. These state credits are worth up to $3,000 for homeowners and up to $15,000 for businesses. These state and federal tax credits mean now is a good time for Iowa homeowners and businesses to invest in solar.
National and state elected officials can do more to support homegrown renewable electricity. Congress should extend the renewable energy production tax credit as soon as possible to preserve wind energy jobs and to provide an incentive that reflects the economic and environmental benefits of renewable electricity.
Here in Iowa, over 30 businesses and organizations have proposed the Iowa Renewable Energy Jobs 2020. It would increase Iowa's use of renewable electricity to 40% by 2020 and diversify the sources of renewable electricity. It would guarantee producers a minimum fair price for electricity they generate. This would encourage innovation by Iowa farmers and spur rural economic development across our state.
Iowa farmers and the businesses working with them on energy efficiency and renewable electricity are providing real benefits to Iowa's economy and environment. By following their lead, we can do even better for our economy and the environment.