Jackson Co. man installs solar panels, now wrapped in red tape - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Jackson Co. man installs solar panels, now wrapped in red tape

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Steve Niedert (left) and his son John Niedert remove solar panels from John's front yard Thursday Steve Niedert (left) and his son John Niedert remove solar panels from John's front yard Thursday
JACKSON COUNTY (KWWL) - New legislation will triple the amount of state tax credits available for installing solar energy systems on homes and businesses.

That could lead to more Iowans exploring the option of renewable energy sources.

A "do it yourself" installation of solar panels, however, could result in extra red tape, one Jackson County man discovered.

When Steve Niedert installed solar panels and a wind generator on his son's property, he said he just wanted to save his family some money.

"If it had worked the way it was supposed to, in four years I would've had my money back. Just flat savings," Niedert said Thursday outside his son John's home.

Niedert, who said he's a retired electrician for John Deere and the military, bought and installed the system himself. That was before he called his utility company, the Maquoketa Valley Electric Cooperative.

After alerting the company of his work, Niedert said, he eventually received a letter, which said, "Maquoketa Valley Electric Cooperative's tariff requires you to sign an interconnection agreement. The interconnection agreement will require an inspection by the State Electrical Inspector to ensure the installation is done according to the National Electrical Code and does not create a safety hazard for you, our linemen or the general public."

Niedert said an inspector with the State Electrical Inspector's Office had come out to his son's property for an inspection.

That inspector, Jay Kress, confirmed to KWWL in a phone conversation that he had been down to John Niedert's property but would not disclose additional information. He directed KWWL to Brian Young, chief electrical inspector and executive secretary for Iowa's Electrical Examining Board in Des Moines.

Young said the inspection Kress performed at John Niedert's home was a courtesy inspection, not a formal inspection. Young said Kress noticed some parts of Steve Niedert's installation that raised safety concerns, so Kress told Niedert to request a formal inspection through the Iowa Department of Public Safety's State Fire Marshal Division Electrical Bureau.

That can be done online HERE (https://iowaelectrical.gov/index.php/pages/home) and information about electrical permits is HERE (http://www.dps.state.ia.us/fm/electrician/ElectricalPermits/Electrical_Permits.shtml )

Young estimated the permitting and inspection process usually costs, on average, between $60 and $80. Somebody buys a permit first, conducts the work and then requests a formal inspection.

Young said Niedert purchased a permit on Wednesday.

"Legally, before the work commences, you're supposed to purchase the permit," Young said. "If he did work before yesterday, he probably didn't do it entirely legally."

Niedert has purchased a permit, Young said, but not yet requested a formal inspection.

The MVEC is threatening to disconnect electricity to John Niedert's property if it doesn't receive an inspection certificate within a week.

"We gave him plenty of time, and he still needs more time," MVEC director of communications Patty Manuel told KWWL.

The letter Niedert received said the MVEC "will need to receive a copy of the electrical inspection certificate prior to the solar array or the wind generator being placed in service. It appears that deadline may have already passed, and thus we are giving you notice that your electric service will be disconnected without any further notice on June 6th if we do not receive the inspection certificate by that date."

Manuel said MVEC has informed Niedert he'll have another week beyond Friday.

"We have several members that have installed solar and wind systems across our service area ...We're totally in support of solar and wind energy, we just need it to be safe," Manuel said. "If he could prove an electrical inspection, we would not disconnect."

Young said utility companies all across Iowa are concerned about the safety of their linemen, and alternative energy-generating systems have the potential to back-feed.

John and Steve Niedert disassembled the solar and wind energy systems Thursday morning in hopes off avoiding disconnection.

"I'm mad that they would even consider doing this," John Niedert said. "It's bull. Just because we want to put in solar and wind and try to save a little money."

People who want to install solar energy systems on their own home can do so, Young said, they just need the proper permit and follow-up inspection before using it. Niedert said he had not yet been using the solar or wind energy system.

KWWL reached out to Eagle Point Solar and Solar Planet, two Dubuque-based solar energy companies, for information on installation costs and rate of return.

Combining information from the two, the companies said the average cost to put a solar energy system on a home could range from $15,000 to $25,000, though state and federal tax credits could cut that cost by as much as half.

They say most people see a return on their investment in seven to 10 years, though that time frame could shorten as traditional energy costs rise.

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