Government

Iowa lawmakers call for more communication from Energy Office

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — House minority Democrats complained Monday about a lack of communication from the Iowa Energy Office on relevant legislative issues after the state economic development director said she didn’t see the need to broadly share that information.

During a question-and-answer session with Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham, Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, pressed her on the lack of information lawmakers receive. In particular, he asked about legislation that includes significant changes to Iowa’s energy-efficiency standards.

In the past, legislators would get information and feedback on legislative proposals, Kressig said. This year, he’s looking for more information on how legislative proposals would affect state energy-efficiency programs.

“They have done some really phenomenal things,” he said.

The office still is communicating — with the appropriate legislators, Durham said.

“If you are talking about a policy that’s being drafted, it doesn’t seem appropriate to me to reach out to 150 legislators,” she said. “What’s appropriate is to work with the committee chairs and the members of the committee to share our concerns.”

“I have not heard one word,” said Kressig, a member of the House Commerce Committee, where House Study Bill 545 awaits action. It is a companion to Senate File 2311, which has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, but has not been debated by the full Senate.

Utilities are lining up behind the wide-ranging bills that would give them more control of certain ratemaking procedures, and make changes in energy-efficiency provisions and emissions standards. Opponents say the bills would deregulate Iowa energy utilities, cut energy-efficiency programs and do significant damage to rooftop and community solar projects.

Pressed by House Democrats on the Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Durham said the energy office has shared “what we believe would be a compromise on the energy-efficiency bill that would not compromise our energy plan.”

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It does not favor making energy-efficiency programs opt-in, but supports a cap on energy-efficiency fees as well as maintaining transparency on utility bills so consumers know what they are paying for, Durham said.

The so-called compromise language was news to Kressig.

“I never saw it,” he said. “Especially when we are voting on bills, we need to know what they are seeing, so we can be educated.”

Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, also a Commerce Committee member, said he has heard from the economic development department on the bill as well as several other interested parties.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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