After more than 12 years in the military serving overseas, Troy Van Beek founded Ideal Energy in 2009 in Fairfield, Iowa, to continue serving others, this time down a path of sustainability. Today the company primarily works on commercial and industrial solar installations under 1 MW. Ideal Energy excels at providing C&I customers with a competitive advantage — whether through good PR, attracting vendors and employees or reducing operating costs, all through solar.
In this Contractors Corner podcast, Solar Power World editor-in-chief Kelly Pickerel talks with Troy, Amy Van Beek and Aurelien Windenberger about Ideal Energy’s work in Iowa.
A portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for even more insight, including the experience of installing the first Tesla Powerpack system in the state, what it’s like working with 183 different utilities in Iowa and Ideal Energy’s goals for future expansion. Find the Contractors Corner podcast on your favorite podcast app.
Aurelien: Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen it kind of go in fits and starts. We have a nice state tax credit for renewable projects. It’s half of the federal credit, so 15%, and they do cap it at $5,000 for residential projects and $20,000 for commercial projects. That’s been in place for many years and been a big positive, helping push solar adoption. The two investor-owned utilities are required to do net metering, so that’s also a big benefit, but recently we’ve seen some pushes through the tariff structures that the utilities are trying to put into place and through state legislative actions to hold back the industry a little bit. We are members of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association and we work with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Iowa. We try to keep active on legislation. It’s an important part of what we do in the industry, making sure we’re being vigilant. As long as we keep the policy strong, the prices will continue to be reduced and be a better opportunity for our customers.
Amy: We spend a fair amount of time at the State Capitol during legislative sessions, and we’ve established a pretty good rapport with Governor Reynolds who tends to be very supportive of the solar industry. We do a lot of work in making time to have politicians visit our sites and actually hear from our customers the stories about how it’s transformed their business. We found that is extremely effective in changing the mindset or having a shift in perspective for what the solar industry can do in Iowa.
With a decade of business under your belt, what would you say has been the biggest obstacle in getting more solar installed in your area?
Troy: Government regulation and tariffs would be one of the biggest obstacles, although education is always the biggest issue. We just need to get the word out that solar is an incredible advantage. On another note, in Iowa, we have about 183 different utilities. That’s always going to be an obstacle, because we do have to work with the utilities. We understand there are a lot of rules and regulations to go into integrating with the utility and it’s important that we follow those rules. But with every different utility, we have to reinvent the process and make sure our team is well educated on how they perform.
Aurelien: Depending on the different utility structures, how they structure their tariffs makes a big impact as to whether solar pencils out properly for the customer here in Iowa. The two investor-owned utilities are required to do net metering, but all of the rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities do not have that same requirement.