City of Dubuque to help some residents pay for solar technology

By: - July 7, 2021 11:55 am

The city of Dubuque will assist 10 lower-income residents to install home solar energy systems. (Photo by PublicDomainPictures.net via Pixabay)

A few Dubuque residents could get help to install solar panels on their homes through a city-funded pilot program approved this week.

The program, Renew DBQ, comes a few months after Iowa lawmakers ended solar tax credits in the state. The Dubuque City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved contributions of $3,285 for each participant. The pilot program is expected to select 10 residents this year. 

One of the project’s main goals is to reduce the burden of energy costs on low- to moderate-income households in Dubuque, the city’s Sustainability Coordinator Gina Bell said while presenting at a city council meeting. 

“This project aligns with several of the plans, the city’s imagined comprehensive plan, our equitable poverty prevention plan, as well as the Climate Action Plan,” she said. “It offers public health benefits, while also helping to alleviate energy cost burden. It will spark economic development and meet our greenhouse gas goal.”

She said the program would help participants align the percentage of their monthly income going to energy costs with that of higher-income households.

“Iowa’s low- to moderate-income residents pay approximately 8 to 10% of their income on energy costs,” she said. “Paying 6% of your income on energy costs is considered a high burden … Hopefully (participating in the program) will get the burden down to what a more affluent household will be paying in terms of their monthly income.” 

With only 10 spots available to enlist in the program, Bell said she’s already received calls from Dubuque citizens who are interested in being part of the inaugural group. The city has yet to determine how participants will be selected outside of ensuring their homes are equipped to utilize solar technology. 

Missing state partnership

The state of Iowa offered $36.6 million in solar incentives between 2012 and 2020, according to the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association. The decision to not renew these credits during the 2021 legislative session led to hundreds of Iowa households losing more than $3,000. 

Council member Brad M. Cavanagh criticized the lack of state participation for programs like Renew DBQ.

“The state of Iowa had solar tax credits, and then very shortly thereafter, took those away,” he said. “And that is concerning to me because I wonder if we’re going to get any help where we really need it on something like this because, I think to make something like this work really well for our community, we need our state’s help.”

Bell said she hopes the state will come back with additional solar tax credits in the future to assist with investment in programs like this one. However, the federal government may be another way to secure additional funding for the pilot program, she said. 

“I think there was bipartisan support (for solar tax credits), but they just ran out of time,” she said. “So, my hope is that we will see something from Iowa. At the federal level, I think there’s a lot of hope. The current administration has said that climate and equity are their priorities and this is a perfect project to exemplify what we can do.”

Regardless of state funding or tax credits, Bell said she has wanted to turn this project into a reality for years and will see the Renew DBQ project through. 

“I am very committed to this project,” she said. “… I really want to see if it works, so I’m not going to let it go by the wayside if we have the city funding to get it off the ground.”

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Eleanor Hildebrandt
Eleanor Hildebrandt

Eleanor Hildebrandt is a third-year student at the University of Iowa where she studies journalism and mass communication and global health studies. She worked as a news reporter covering shared governance and higher education and a digital producer for The Daily Iowan since her freshman year. In the fall, she will return to the paper as a news editor. As a second-year, she hosted and co-produced "On The Record", the DI's news podcast that was named Best Podcast by the Iowa Newspaper Association.

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