Going solar could save significant taxpayer money, says state auditor


Rob Sand, Iowa auditor of state, reports on potential savings of solar energy use by public entities.

Rory Mcdermott

Doing the right thing motivates all types of people to take action. Sometimes, however, morality must take a back seat to the obligations of finances and saving money.

But what if doing the right thing and saving money can coexist?

Rob Sand, auditor of the state of Iowa, sees potential for this best-of-both-worlds outcome in his Public Innovations and Efficiencies (PIE) program.

“I campaigned on the idea that the office could do more to help save taxpayer money,” Sand said. “The PIE program really has been what we’ve put in place to make that campaign promise a reality.”

Sand’s recent PIE report released a solar energy review. The survey covers public schools and governments with installed solar programs, which totals over 100 entities. Sand’s interest lies in investigating the financial benefits of solar energy.

“It was pretty consistent that everybody across the board had a very good experience,” Sand said.

By “very good experience,” Sand refers to the survey’s significant results. The office narrowed their detailed survey to a random sample of 27 entities, of which 13 responded. This small sample provided insight into their savings, which were applied to all public schools and governments should all entities switch their energy sources.

“If each of these entities created a solar installation matching the average installation in this report, that would total 528 installations,” the report read. “Using the average estimated savings figures from this report, these installations would net Iowa taxpayers over $375 million in savings over the lifetimes of the installations.”

This significant number did not surprise, according to Sand. Instead, the office went in with few predictions.

“We didn’t necessarily have expectations,” he said. “We just wanted to dig in and find out what the truth was.”

The truth: solar energy can be cost-effective, which is a goal most administrators and elected officials can appreciate. Sand finds cost-effectiveness to be an essential but secondary factor in his overall hopes for the report.

At the top of the list includes the ability to “mitigate climate chaos” and promoting “the financial benefits of doing the right thing.”

“Certainly seeing more local entities installing solar will mean that taxpayers are saving more money,” Sand said.

The report releases answers to survey questions covering community feedback, cost savings, advice for other communities and ways to improve the implementation process, among additional information and statistics. The overwhelming majority listed positive, encouraging remarks indicating a vote of support for other entities to join the solar effort.

Following the study’s success, Sand notes the report’s trailblazing nature. His office was unable to find another state that has completed a similar review.

“It’s surprising because it’s a pretty common sense idea,” Sand said. “If other states picked up on it, that’d be great. But our goal is to be doing our work here in Iowa and helping make sure Iowa taxpayers are saving money.”

The report findings have the potential to encourage other institutions to take similar action. Currently, greater than 95 percent of Iowa State’s energy supply comes from nonrenewable sources, according to Iowa State’s energy dashboard website.

The report can be found here.