Iowa is Quickly Becoming the New Solar Panel and Wind State

Iowa is a surprising comer for solar installations. A state senator wants Iowa to spend $3.1 million to fund an infusion of solar panel energy capability at the University of Iowa.  The proposal could save the university about $100,000 annually in energy costs, create short-term jobs, reduce carbon emissions and be a step forward for promoting solar energy in the state, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said during a press conference announcing his proposal Tuesday in front of Kinnick Stadium.

Hogg plans to propose a bill in the 2013 legislative session to provide $3.1 million in state funds for the project. The money would come from the state’s projected $321 million cash surplus, Hogg said. “We have the money,” he said. “This is a good long-term investment.”

Hogg’s proposal calls for the addition of 1,240-kilowatt solar facilities, which he said would put the UI in the top 25 of colleges and universities nationally for solar energy capability. The proposal will not dictate to the UI the sites for the solar panels or how savings must be spent, Hogg said.

UI officials are committed to sustainability and they welcome any opportunity to enhance or advance those efforts, university Spokesman Tom Moore said, so they look forward to discussing the proposal with Hogg.

The state this year created a tax incentive for small businesses and homeowners who install solar panels on their property, and this proposal is a good extension of that, said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who was also on hand for the press conference. Such an investment by the state could get Iowans thinking about solar possibilities in their communities, he said.

“Clearly we need to make more investments in renewable energy,” he said. “We’ve barely got our toes in the water where solar is concerned, and I think there’s great opportunity.”

Other countries are outpacing the United States in the development and addition of solar panel installation, but the technology is becoming more affordable and cost effective and hopefully will become more common, said Tim Dwight, a former Hawkeye football standout who is now a solar developer and member of the Iowa Solar/Small Wind Energy Trade Association.

“Imagine the amount of power that’s heating us all up right now, that we can capture this,” Dwight said. “It’s free, it’s clean, it’s dependable.”