IOWA CITY — Iowa’s largest utility MidAmerican Energy has proposed some reductions to “right-size” the company’s energy-efficiency programs and provide a savings to customers.
However, consumer advocate representatives and some in the energy efficiency workforce have expressed concern that MidAmerican’s proposal could make it more difficult for customers to take part in such programs.
In MidAmerican’s proposed Energy Efficiency filing for 2019-2023, which was submitted last fall to the Iowa Utilities Board, one of the more notable proposals includes the elimination of on-site assessments for energy rebate programs.
Instead, MidAmerican will offer an online assessment tool to provide tips and recommendations on how customers can save energy in their homes.
Tina Hoffman, director of corporate communications with MidAmerican, said the five-year plan’s focus is to right size the company’s offerings to maintain a focus on energy efficiency, while also saving money for customers. A cost-benefit analysis was conducted for each program offered.
“There’s a percentage of everybody’s bill that is allocated for energy efficiency. That’s a state mandate. That’s how these plans get paid for,” Hoffman said.
“When we filed the plan in November, we did propose a reduction in some of that spending in order to right size the programs for our customers and help them save some dollars, while also offering a robust set of energy-efficiency programs that would still achieve significant savings.”
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The proposed plan, which is pending Iowa Utilities Board approval, would save the average residential customer $67 a year, while commercial customers would save $152 annually and industrial customers would save around $6,500 a year, according to a MidAmerican news release.
MidAmerican currently outsources with third-party contractors to conduct free home assessments and inform customers of what energy-efficiency rebates might be available.
MidAmerican had more than 6,000 on-site assessments last year. All told, MidAmerican customers received 28,000 furnace rebates and 561,000 linear lamp rebates, Hoffman said in an email.
However, Jennifer Easler, lawyer with the Office of Consumer Advocate of Iowa, said the elimination of energy audits could add a significant barrier between customers and energy efficiency programs.
“Historically, the audit has been the primary gateway for customers to implement insulation measures and to think about more comprehensive energy efficiency in the home,” Easler said. “The audit helps explain, if you put in insulation, if you replace an old water heater or home furnace, here is your payback period.
“It helps the customer understand their opportunities.”
Easler said the plan also could eliminate some incentives for some home insulation rebates, which could add another barrier for customers.
“I think a lot of customers rely on that incentive as a big part of their decision to implement. The upfront costs are a huge barrier,” Easler said.
Jeff Bergo, owner of Iowa City’s Bergo Insulation, is a part of MidAmerican’s dealer network. Sometimes he performs audits and sometimes he conducts insulation projects after an audit has been conducted, he said.
Bergo said his biggest concern is a potential loss of business.
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“I do three to five jobs a week, but one of those — if not two of those — is related to an energy audit,” Bergo said.
Bergo added that an energy audit requires a level of understanding. An unfamiliar homeowner might not know what to look for or where energy efficiencies can be found.
“Unless you’re a home enthusiast, they’re going to miss a lot of key things that are important to get that house insulated properly,” Bergo said.
MidAmerican’s Hoffman said the proposed plan would provide customers with an online audit tool to help identify energy efficiency opportunities and possible rebates. The savings created by the reductions could be used for those programs, she added.
“Essentially, we think that right sizing the program is appropriate because we do feel like customers should be empower to spend their dollars in a way that makes sense for them,” Hoffman said.
The Iowa Utilities Board could meet later this fall to discuss MidAmerican’s proposal and any formal objections.
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