Iowa has a comprehensive Energy Plan, crafted under the leadership of Gov. Kim Reynolds while she was lieutenant governor in 2016. And one of its four “pillars” is “Energy Efficiency and Conservation.”
“We will continue to embrace energy efficiency, a mix of energy resources, infrastructure and technologies to position all of Iowa — both rural and urban — for future growth,” the Iowa Energy Plan proclaims. The plan also refers to energy efficiency as a “least cost resource,” that is “the single most cost-effective tool within an energy portfolio.”
And yet, a number of Reynolds’ fellow Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are pushing for legislation, primarily Senate File 2311, that could dramatically reduce spending on energy efficiency in Iowa.
The bill, which makes numerous changes to laws governing utilities, would cap the amount of annual revenue utilities can spend on energy efficiency efforts at 2 percent. That would be a big change, considering current spending ranges generally from 4 percent to 9 percent. Tens of millions of dollars now spent on an array of energy efficiency efforts would evaporate.
Proponents have tried to portray this effort as pro-consumer. They insist one Iowan doesn’t want to pay a higher utility bill so another Iowan can get a rebate on insulation or an energy efficient appliance. Truth is, energy efficiency efforts are more than light bulbs and refrigerators. They’re hoping Iowans won’t see the forest for the trees.
For example, Trees Forever leaders who met with our editorial board this month contend the bill could jeopardize statewide tree-planting partnerships with utilities. The group’s Branching Out partnership with Alliant Energy has planted nearly 1.2 million trees in Iowa since 1990. Not only does an expanded tree canopy reduce energy costs by shading structures and reducing the urban heat island effect, it holds and soaks up stormwater, sequesters carbon and increases property values. Benefits far outweigh the cost to ratepayers. And curtailing energy efficiency efforts won’t really save consumers money in the long run if growing energy usage pushes utilities to increase capacity. When power plants must be expanded or built, consumers pay higher rates to cover those costs.
We’re not opposed to a conversation on caps, but 2 percent is too low. We support a move to make the programs more transparent by informing consumers how much they’re paying for efficiency efforts. We also think consumers should see how much they’re paying for coal, natural gas, renewable sources, administration and other costs.
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But we think it’s a debate that shouldn’t be rushed. Approving such far-reaching legislation in the final days of a legislative session amid the chaotic drive to adjournment would be a big mistake. Iowans deserve more time to understand the consequences and weigh in.
And if lawmakers choose to jam a bill through, Reynolds should live up to the promise of the Iowa Energy Plan and veto it.
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