Capitol Update: Week 8

Private Electric Generation Equity Bill Passes House Commerce Committee

This week the House Commerce committee considered HSB 185, which proposes an equitable change to how customer use utility infrastructure and the costs associated with that use.  The goal is to make sure costs are not inequitably transferred from one customer to another. The bill moved out of committee ahead of the funnel deadline and will be eligible next week.

At its core, HSB 185 is about equity and fairness. The bill simply allows electric companies to do what RECs and municipal utilities currently have the ability to do: charge customers based on their energy usage and the demands placed on the system.  Currently, rate regulated electric companies (Mid-American and Alliant) are not able to charge all customers for their use of the infrastructure used to provide electricity to their home or business.  Private generation customers (e.g. customers who generate solar energy) do not pay for these infrastructure costs, even though they use it more than traditional customers. These customers take energy off the grid and send energy back to the grid using the distribution infrastructure more than a regular customer.

Utilities must ensure the electric grid has reliable service 24/7 for all of their customers, including private generation customers.  Private generation customers are really “super-users” because they both receive and send energy through the grid.  Private solar customers use the grid for all but about 40 seconds of an average day because they’re almost always either receiving or sending energy. This means they are not off the grid.  And since they are not off the grid it seems reasonable to expect all customers to equitably share the costs of it – whether they receive energy, send it, or both.

Many have expressed concern that HSB 185 will completely change the current structure and system. However, this legislation does not eliminate net metering.  With net metering, a customer that owns private solar can “bank” excess energy and use it to offset their bill when their energy needs are greater than the energy they produce.  Under the proposed legislation, net metering is still one of a menu of billing options solar customers could choose.  In addition, HSB 185 “grandfathers in” current solar energy customers with their existing status, maintaining the pricing and payment structure they currently have.

The Solar Industry will remain highly subsidized – over 50% of the installation cost for solar is covered by federal and state tax credits.  HSB 185 does not affect the federal, state or local tax subsidies that solar customers currently receive and which cover at least half of the cost of a typical residential solar installation.

HSB 185 is an equitable and fair solution because it stops the transference of costs from one customer onto another while making sure everyone pays their share.  Often those stuck subsidizing solar installations are customers on fixed income/low income and renters.   This bill eliminates the shifting of electric grid costs from those who can afford private solar to all other customers and gives customers more options for connecting solar to the electric grid.

Budget Priorities for FY2020

 

Children’s Mental Health

Last session, with complete bipartisan support, the legislature passed a comprehensive mental health bill to fill gaps in Iowa’s adult mental health system. House File 2456 increased access to mental health services and created new services for urban and rural communities in Iowa. By removing the statewide sub-acute bed cap and adding new services to the core list required by Iowa’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Service (MHDS) Regions, this bill helps deescalate mental health patients before crisis and wraps services around them when they are prepared to return home.

Building off of last year’s comprehensive mental health bill for adults, the legislature is now focusing on building the foundation for a children’s mental health system. This week, the House Human Resources unanimously passed House Study Bill 206. This bill develops Iowa’s first coordinated children’s mental health system. This bill ensures that there is local access and coordination to mental health services for children, and that parents have a place to turn when seeking treatment for their child.

 

Future Ready Iowa

Ensuring that Iowans have the job skills needed by Iowa’s employers is one of the biggest issues facing this state.  The House Majority has committed to fund implementation of the Future Ready Iowa program that was created last year.  This will include $15 million for assisting community college students with the Last Dollar Scholar program and $1 million for helping those who started four-year degrees in certain fields to go back to college and finish them.

 

Additional Medicaid Funding for Nursing Homes

With the growing number of nursing home residents whose care is covered by Medicaid, nursing homes are facing tighter operating budgets.  To help ensure Iowans have access to this important level of care in their local communities, the House Majority is planning to provide an additional $19 million of General Fund dollars to Iowa’s Medicaid program to increase the daily nursing home payment rate.  These funds will also help control the growth of private pay rates in nursing homes.

 

Protecting Iowan’s Safety

Iowa’s safe communities are a big drawing card for this state.  The House Majority budget will build on this by providing an additional $3.8 million for the Department of Public Safety in FY 2020.  These commitments will allow DPS to bring on additional troopers and DCI agents in the next year.

 

Expanding Access to Health Care in Rural Iowa

Having trained health care providers is necessary to having functioning hospitals and nursing homes across Iowa.  And to attract health care providers to rural communities sometimes requires additional steps to make this appealing to new practitioners.  To help more communities attract doctors, the House Majority will be taking two steps.  First, we will provide an additional $400,000 for medical residency programs and dedicating these funds to those who will practice in rural Iowa.  Also, the House Majority will increase funding for the Rural Primary Loan Repayment program by $300,000.  This program helps communities attract and retain newly-licensed doctors.

 

Continuing Iowa’s Investment in Higher Education

Increasing support for Iowans seeking higher education will be part of the FY 2020 budget beyond what is included in Future Ready Iowa.  Increases for all three legs of Iowa’s higher education system will be part of the House Majority budget.   Community Colleges will receive an additional $7 million in FY 2020 under the House Majority plan.

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