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Moxie: Let the sun shine

Local solar company, now in seven states, makes case to legislators
North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar, Moxie Chief Executive Officer Jason Hall, Mayor Terry Donahue, Representative Dave Jacoby and Senator Zach Wahls visit prior to a tour of the city’s solar array at the streets department. (photos by Doug Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– The power of the sun was on display for state legislators at the North Liberty Public Works campus Aug. 14.
Members of the Iowa Future Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of millennial lawmakers, visited one of the city’s solar arrays and listened to concerns from Moxie: America’s Solar Company representatives regarding the state’s approach to renewable energies.
Moxie and the City of North Liberty partnered on a series of solar arrays to power municipal buildings in 2016.
Legislative representatives, city officials and Moxie employees gathered in front of the 240-panel array, which generates 100 percent of the electricity needed for the streets department building.
“Over 90,000 kilowatt hours are generated here annually,” explained Moxie’s Chris Hoffman.
Another 60-panel array feeds the parks department, he said, creating over 30,000 kilowatt-hours a year, while a separate array powers the North Liberty fire station.
While it took some time for the city to research the issue and make a decision, City Administrator Ryan Heiar said, “When we did it was a no-brainer.”
Utilizing the solar system results in over $350,000 savings to the city over the 25-year guaranteed life of the panels, he said. The power purchase agreement developed by Moxie brought in a private investor to finance the system, allowing the city to make the leap to solar power with no initial investment, he added.
“Obviously there was a big money component there, not to mention the carbon footprint reduction,” Heiar noted. “Even from the first month that this came on board, we’re paying less than we were paying for our monthly utility bill. So it was instant savings with no money down.”
Moxie Chief Executive Officer Jason Hall provided a quick tour of the array, the final stop of the day for Iowa Future Caucus members State Senator Zach Wahls and State Representative Lindsay James.
Caucus members began the day in Des Moines and then toured an ethanol plant and a biodiesel facility in Mason City and a Story County wind farm before arriving in North Liberty.
Hall said the North Liberty array doesn’t require maintenance.
“Mother nature’s going to wash them off whenever it rains,” he told the crowd.
The array is six panels high and about 16 feet tall, Hall said. Energy from the sun is changed inside the photocells on the panels generating direct current electricity. An inverter changes the direct current to alternating current for use by the utility grid.
Moxie installs its ground arrays level, with 2-inch pipes buried in five feet of concrete to secure the installation against Iowa’s high winds and bad winters.
“This is the coolest array you’re ever going to see,” he noted.
Everything about the array is made in the USA, except for the solar panels, Hoffman noted. Moxie partners with local companies like Crescent Electric, in Cedar Rapids, (Moxie installed an array on the Crescent building) as much as it can, he said.
In addition to its project with the City of North Liberty, he said, Moxie has also undertaken installations for Johnson County and Mason City.
Both Alliant and MidAmerican Energy moved, in 2017, to restrict the size of individual solar installations, Hoffman observed, and the last several years have been a battle for the solar industry in Iowa.
In Iowa, he said, the break-even point on a residential solar system pencils out to somewhere between six and eight years.
Because a business can depreciate the investment, the payoff is more like three to five years, he added.
The panels, which carry a 25-year warranty, will easily last 40-50 years, Hoffman noted.
In Illinois, the state legislature made an investment in solar energy by requiring 25 percent of all electricity to come from renewable sources.
Hall said Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016 with benefits targeted to the solar industry
“They’re immediately creating real jobs,” Hall said, estimating 8,000 positions were created.
Moxie, now in seven states, has a large presence in Illinois, Hoffman reported.
“There’s a really good reason for that,” he said. “It’s because they’ve got the tax system credits down.”
The same residential system can be paid off in four years in Illinois, he said. “The business that’s going to take, three, five years in Iowa, is going to be done in under two years in Illinois.”
In Iowa, he continued, the solar industry had to weather a storm over the extension of the state tax credit and is being bullied by a utility company seeking to sock solar users with extra fees.
“They’re doing it really well in Illinois and that’s where we see a lot our growth happening because of that,” Hoffman added
He encouraged the legislators present, state senators Wahls and Joe Bolckom and state representatives James and Dave Jacoby, to increase the $2 million in state credits issued by the state annually.
The amount has not increased since the program was introduced, he said, despite solar power creating $4 for every $1 in state tax credit.
“We have seen the tax credit for the State of Iowa get used up earlier and earlier in the year,” Hoffman observed. “As that’s happened, people just have to wait longer for their tax credit.”
In 2018, the credits were exhausted by May. In 2019, he said, they lasted until July because MidAmerican’s attempt to introduce extra charges kept people from making the investment in solar energy.
The industry is also under stress because of additional tariffs, Hall said, but the building momentum of renewable energy won’t be stopped by a temporary trade war.
State and federal incentives in 2008 gave solar energy the foothold it needed, he explained, reducing the expense to the customer to as little as 8¢ on the dollar. Alliant offered rebates of up to $25,000 on solar systems, and as the incentives increased and the cost of the technology decreased, businesses like Moxie were born.
With over a decade under its belt, the company now has approximately 125 employees working in seven states with a headquarters in North Liberty.
Originally just a solar installer, Moxie grew to the point it employs its own electricians, engineers and attorney.
Earlier this year, Hall said, the company introduced a sister company called Verve, an electric vehicle sales and lease dealership.
“As soon as you drive an electric vehicle, you’re kind of hooked,” he said.
“Even though these are low end, as soon as you drive them that’s what you want to drive from now on.”
Moxie will offer the used vehicles to its solar customers as a stepping-stone for families and businesses seeking to offset more emissions through renewable energy.
“Do you think it would make it a lot of sense to power your vehicle for free with the solar you’ve already decided to install on your house?” he asked.
“Solar is good for the environment and good for the economy. Electric vehicles are good for the environment and good for the economy. We’re really excited about that one-two punch to really make a difference,” Hall continued. “The growth is a byproduct of how much good we want to do. We want to install more solar. We want to offset more of people’s emissions so that we are having a bigger impact on the environment.”
As of April 1, he said, Moxie Solar rebranded as Moxie: America’s Solar Company, a move to position the company for the national market.
The new Moxie will feature red, white and blue as its signature colors, Hall said, to show its pride in being American and to help lift the business above political infighting.
“We are the next evolution of what tree huggers look like. We are tree huggers today,” Hall said. “We create jobs, we improve the economy. These are not minimum wage jobs– they’re attorneys and engineers and project managers. These are real jobs that we’re creating.”