The Iowa Senate recently passed Senate File 2311, a bill that would dramatically hinder energy efficiency programs at all Iowa public and private utilities while also reducing oversight of coal plant emissions. This bill is now being considered in the Iowa House.
Even though energy efficiency usually saves money as well as natural resources over the long term, businesses, developers and residents often choose to install less efficient systems because of lower upfront costs. These short-term decisions are essentially subsidized by all customers, as they eventually require new plants and infrastructure to keep up with unnecessary demand.
Our payments for energy efficiency, like insulating a home, often go to local installers, but the money for wasted energy consumed by inefficient systems usually goes to out of state suppliers of coal and natural gas. This compounds the economic drain resulting from using more energy than necessary.
The proposed bill would slash energy efficiency programs at least in half, but changes are likely to be even more severe. Customers would be allowed to opt out of efficiency programs, likely leading to a “death spiral” where only customers planning efficiency upgrades would remain in the system. Eventually the costs of participation would rise to the point where programs went largely unused.
By far the dirtiest energy source available in Iowa today is coal. Due to its chemical makeup, coal emits far more carbon dioxide than even natural gas for every unit of energy produced, but it also produces more sulfur, mercury and particulate pollution, even when plants are retrofitted with state-of-the-art pollution reduction systems.
By eliminating emission plans and budget filings on coal plants, the bill would eliminate a key opportunity for public input when plant changes are proposed. Reducing our dependence on coal has large, quantifiable benefits in terms of public health and carbon dioxide emissions, this provision does the opposite.
By promoting increased energy efficiency, the state rewards innovation by individual consumers, communities and small business in reducing energy needs and expansion of non-fossil fuel options, including wind, solar and geothermal, for which Iowa has gained national attention.
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We are scientists and economists who have worked together for more than a decade to communicate expected local impacts from climate change to Iowans. The negative effects on our state from a changing climate in the form of increased flooding, storm events, humidity and disease vectors are well established. These damages are especially troublesome when they are exacerbated by collective decisions to forgo easily implemented efficiency improvements and fuel choices in pursuit of, at best, very short-term gain.
This is not the time to be cutting efficiency programs or promoting coal use in Iowa.
• David Courard-Hauri is professor of environmental science and sustainability at Drake University. Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. David Swenson is an associate scientist in the department of economics at Iowa State University. Gene Tackle is director of the climate science program at Iowa State University. Laura Jackson is professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa. Emily Heaton is associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. Charles Stanier is associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa. Kamyar Enshayan is director of the center for energy and environmental education at the University of Northern Iowa.
Editor’s Note: SF2311 was amended just before the funnel deadline. In its current version, which may not be the final version, the energy efficiency program was capped at 2 percent of a customer’s electric or natural gas bill. The Iowa Utilities Board estimates, for customers of rate-regulated electric utilities, the program would be significantly cut from $162 million to $66 million a year if the cap is implemented.