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An Iowa utility is changing course after it faced criticism for inviting customers to pay more for electricity from existing solar capacity.

Interstate Power & Light on Thursday formally dropped its June 2017 request to regulators for a premium-pricing option called Beyond Solar.

Instead, the utility issued a request for proposals this week to develop new capacity for its first community solar project.

The shift in direction means added solar capacity and also the potential for participants to financially benefit, though details aren’t expected until fall.

“They are looking at a potentially new solar resource based on customers subscribing, where there is actual economic benefit to the customers,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Des Moines, who was critical of the company’s Beyond Solar proposal.

“The details will still matter, but they are making a good faith effort to design a program that provides benefit,” he added.

A spokesman for Interstate Power & Light did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but filings with the Iowa Utilities Board provide some information about the company’s plans.

The utility is seeking bids on constructing solar arrays of two, five or seven megawatts. The Beyond Solar program was designed to use power from an existing solar array in Dubuque, and from an existing power-purchase agreement between the company and an Iowa wind farm.

Interstate will accept proposals through July 25 and anticipates filing a community-solar proposal with state regulators by early September.

“I think they are legitimately trying to engage with stakeholders,” Mandelbaum said. “We’re certainly appreciative of the continued effort and the fact we’re headed in the right direction.”

Karen Uhlenhuth

Karen spent most of her career reporting for the Kansas City Star, focusing at various times on local and regional news, and features. More recently, she was employed as a researcher and writer for a bioethics center at a children’s hospital in Kansas City. Karen covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.