Governor Reynolds Visits Ideal Energy to Discuss Iowa’s Solar Future
By: Eric Johnson, Writer, Ideal Energy
On Wednesday, November 1st, Governor Kim Reynolds visited Ideal Energy’s office to talk policy and see the impact of solar energy on Iowa’s economy.
Troy Van Beek, co-founder of Ideal Energy, lead the meeting with a discussion of policy challenges, several of Ideal Energy’s most noteworthy projects, and innovation in the solar industry. Several solar industry leaders and Ideal Energy customers also attended the meeting and spoke with the Governor about their experiences with solar energy. “We are affected by policy,” Troy said. “We’re working on a roller coaster. We call it the ‘solar coaster’. Policy comes and it goes. That has been very difficult.”
Governor Reynolds made clear she understood the difficulties that ever-changing policy can bring to a growing industry. “It’s very disrupting,” she said. “You need the stability. That impacts investments and that impacts production.”
Roger Vorhies, vice president of Schaus-Vorhies Companies, emphasized the importance of the solar Investment Tax Credit. “The tax credits were a big part of our decision,” he said. “It was a business decision. The return on investment was enhanced by the tax credits.”
Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing (SVM), part of the Schaus-Vorhies Companies group, installed a half-megawatt solar array on a restored industrial brownfield adjacent to its facility. At the time, it was the largest privately owned solar array in Iowa. The array saves SVM approximately $100,000 per year in utility costs.
Above: Schaus-Vorhies Manufacturing (SVM) saves about $100,000 annually in energy costs with their half-megawatt array, sited on a former brownfield.
From Left to Right: Governor Kim Reynolds and Lt. Governor Adam Gregg discuss how manufacturing businesses like are gaining a competitive edge with solar energy, SVM Co-Founder Roger Vorhies explains what factors drove his company to install solar.
Governor Reynolds stated that a clear policy roadmap was essential for solar investment. “If you’re an investor that’s looking to build out an industry and you’re seeing the fluctuation we are [seeing] in policy, you’re more hesitant to invest.”
Tom Kimbis, Executive Vice President of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) spoke about additional policy issues in the solar industry, including the Suniva trade complaint before the United States International Trade Commission.
Kimbis also emphasized the growth and dynamism of the solar industry. SEIA represents around 1,000 companies with 260,000 solar jobs in the U.S. – including 38,000 American manufacturing jobs. Kimbis spoke about solar innovation including smart inverters, Tesla’s Gigafactory, and battery storage solutions.
“The great news here is that you have these innovative ideas you’ve heard just from this one short conversation,” he said. “These are the things making solar so exciting. This is happening everywhere.”
Solar Plus Storage
One innovation that Ideal Energy is introduced to Iowa is solar plus storage technology. The first use of battery storage in a commercial-scale solar array in Iowa was at Stuff Etc’s Coralville location. Founded by Mary Sundblad, Stuff Etc is a chain of consignment stores throughout Iowa. Amy Van Beek, co-founder and marketing director of Ideal Energy, brought Governor Reynolds up to speed on how the technology was used at Stuff Etc.
“In order for solar to work for Mary we had to bring a brand new technology in, which is something that’s really exciting,” Amy said. “Linn County REC, her utility, had a cap on the amount of net metering they would provide. But Mary wanted to take the store to 100% net-zero. We were able to pair her solar installation with batteries to allow her to maintain that net-metering threshold and at the same time benefit from the full advantage of solar.”
This technology is slated to be an increasing part of Ideal Energy’s portfolio of solutions. It’s particularly useful for large utility users who want to eliminate expensive demand charges, which are difficult to reduce with solar arrays alone.
Right: Stuff Etc. Founder Mary Sundblad introducted Gov. Reynolds to Iowa’s first Solar Plus Storage project, located at their flagship store in Coralville, Iowa.
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Jenny Steffensmeier, owner of Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing, spoke about the reduction in her utility bill as result of her company’s net-zero installation. Her company’s utility costs dropped from $92,000 per year to just over $22 per month.
Steffensmeier reinvested those savings in her employees and her business. The business introduced a new benefits package that adds coverage for dental, vision, and disability. Several employees are receiving AutoCAD training at a local community college. And the company hired additional workers to run a second shift.
Governor Reynolds is Excited about Solar
After touring Ideal Energy’s offices and SVM’s 500 kW solar field, Governor Reynolds summed up her appreciation of solar energy’s benefits. “To go from $8000 a month for the cost of electricity to basically nothing. Zero net. That gives them the additional revenue to hire, to train, to grow their companies. That’s exciting.”
From Left to Right: Tom Kimbus, Executive Vice President of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); Jenny Steffensmeier, Owner, Steffensmeier Welding and Manufacturing; Governor Reynolds; Troy Van Beek, Founder & CEO, Ideal Energy; Amy Van Beek, Co Founder & CMO, Ideal Energy; Lt. Governor Gregg; Mary Sundblad, Founder & Owner, Stuff Etc Quality Consignment.
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