An Iowa state court recently overturned the state’s Utility Board determination that a solar power systems vendor was a public utility when it set up a solar power system for the City of Dubuque. SZ Enters. v. Iowa Utils. Bd., No. CVCV009166 (Iowa Dist. Ct. 3/29/13). The city and solar power company sought to enter an agreement under which Eagle Point would finance, install on city property, own, operate, and maintain a photovoltaic generation system to supply part of the city’s electricity needs for one building. The city would require additional power that it would purchase from Interstate Power and Light, the local electric utility, which challenged the agreement by asserting that the solar power company would be a public utility and would be precluded from selling electricity within Interstate’s territory by state law. The Utility Board agreed.
Eagle Point appealed to the state court. The statute defines a public utility as including companies that furnish electricity “to the public for compensation.” The court found that Eagle Point’s agreement with the city did not amount to selling to the public and that it was providing “behind-the-meter energy efficiency services” that are not subject to regulation as a public utility. The court also concluded that it was not an “electric utility.”