Could Iowa become as successful in solar energy as it has been in developing wind energy and renewable fuels? Both Gov. Terry Branstad and federal officials believe it could.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority announced this morning that its State Energy Office has received a $1.03 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to launch a statewide initiative to reduce the cost and promote the installation of more photovoltaic solar systems throughout Iowa.


The money comes from the Rooftop Solar Challenge II grant, part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Sun Shot Initiativea national collaborative effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity. The IEDA, which will work with the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and the Iowa Environmental Council on the 36-month initiative, is one of eight collaborative teams across the country to receive funding.


"Ranked 16th for technical solar potential, Iowa has real potential to generate solar energy as another alternative fuel source," Branstad said in a release. "As a leader in wind energy and renewable fuels, Iowa should be at the front of the pack in implementing programs that encourage the use of solar energy as well."


The Rooftop Solar Challenge aims to reduce the cost of rooftop solar energy systems through improved permitting, financing, zoning, net metering, and interconnection processes for residential and small commercial photovoltaic installations. During the Challenge's first round in 2011, 22 regional teams worked to dramatically reduce the soft costs of solar - serving as models for other communities across the country. These efforts helped cut permitting time by 40 percent and reduce fees by more than 10 percent.


The IEDA team will work directly with several local governments, including the City of Des Moines, to implement measures to reduce barriers to solar installation. Other governments taking part are Floyd and Linn counties, and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. In addition, at least two communities serviced by a municipal electrical utility will participate as pilot cities.


"For some municipal utilities, customer deployment of roof-top solar will be viewed as a logical resource strategy," said Bob Haug, executive director of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. "It stems the flow of cash from the community to pay investment bankers and the owners of transmission lines, central power plants, coal mines, railroads, gas wells and pipelines," he said. "In any event, reducing the soft costs of solar just makes common sense."


The IEDA plans to hold a stakeholder meeting to provide more information on the initiative. For more information on the goals of the grant, contact Paritosh Kasotia