March 14, 2014

Des Moines, Iowa

Solar energy would get a big boost in Iowa if a bill passed Thursday in a Senate committee becomes law.

The bill, approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, would increase the annual cap for solar tax credits to $4.5 million from the current $1.5 million. It also would allow individual homeowners to get up to $5,000 in credits, up from the existing $3,000 cap, and businesses to qualify for $20,000 in credits, up from $15,000.

The bill would cover increases retroactively to Jan. 1.

"This has been a very successful credit," said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat. "We have in the last year 93 businesses, including many farms actually, and about 260 residential installations that have bumped up against the cap that was in the program. I'm pleased to push it up a little bit further."

Environmental groups back the bill because it supports a clean energy source.

"The Iowa Environmental Council strongly supports this bill because the tax credit has played an important role in helping strengthen Iowa's solar energy industry," spokesman Matt Hauge said in a statement.

The group said demand exceeded the cap by nearly 50 percent last year and interest in solar is growing rapidly.

Iowa first passed the credit in 2012. An attempt last year to make changes to the law passed the Senate unanimously but was not considered in the House.

A House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Since the tax credit began, 622 projects using more than $2.8 million in credits have invested $24 million in solar energy.

In 2013 all the available credits were used and projects that would use more than $685,000 were on a waiting list, the IEC said.

"With the explosion of solar, it's not large enough. We've used that cap in 2013 and used almost half in 2014 and we're not at the end of the first quarter," said Tyler Bacon, president of CB Solar Inc., an Ankeny business that installs solar projects.

Interest in solar projects picked up two to three years ago.

"It's at a full-steam, exponential increase," he said. "We're doing small jobs and big jobs."

Much of the company's business is installing solar panels on livestock farm buildings, he said.