In reference to The Gazette’s March 10 editorial on energy-related conflicts, I offer my educated opinion and thoughts on this subject. These thoughts are from 49 years in the education and energy business.
When the Iowa Energy Center opened for business 28 years ago, a friend and I recently had organized the Iowa Renewable Energy Association.
We were one of the first to apply to the energy center for a grant to help create the first renewable energy fair in Iowa and the second in the country.
With help from the center and the William C. Leighty Foundation, IRENEW held many successful educational fairs, events and displays across Iowa.
Those funds, as well as the foresight of former Gazette opinion editors Jerry Elsea and Jeff Tecklenburg, helped keep renewable energy in the news, out of Iowa politics and out of the control and influence of the main electric utilities.
But it is not just the politics that seems to be aimed at shutting down the Iowa Energy Center.
The center previously was a needed organization for promoting and educating about energy efficiency and renewable energy, and it still could be a safeguard against attacks on renewable energy projects and funding.
Part of the issue, in my opinion, is that local newspapers have done little to keep the utilities’ past behavior in the public domain.
Utilities have been required to fund projects in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Utilities cannot segregate renewable energy in separate billing categories. Utilities still have to offer “net billing.” With the Iowa Senate’s behavior, and with the blessing of the utilities, these requirements definitely will disappear, along with the center’s demise.
Here are a few examples of past behavior in Iowa by the utilities and legislators that has been detrimental to renewable energy in our state:
• IRENEW’s diminished influence in renewable energy policy when electric utilities representatives were added to the board of directors.
• Former Gov. Terry Branstad and all lawmakers ignoring invitations to all 20 past energy fairs. (We were privileged to have some politicians from Washington, D.C., attend over the years.)
• Utilities kept “net billing” in court for years.
• Utilities kept small-scale wind installations in court for years.
• MidAmerican now is huge in wind, but at one time kept IRENEW out of an energy show in Davenport.
• One major renewable energy issue that shows Alliant Energy’s views was their loss in court for power purchase agreements. This was a costly court case that never should have happened.
The electric utilities, the Iowa Utilities Board and the General Assembly seem to have no concept of the potential damage they will cause this session; history really does indicate future behavior.
As The Gazette’s editorial Saturday said, this isn’t a pretty picture for Iowa’s energy future.
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• Tom Snyder is a co-founder of IRENEW, teaches solar and renewable energy at the University of Dubuque, was a solar licensing instructor at Northeast Iowa Community College, and has been NABCEP certified solar thermal in Iowa since 2007.