Government

Effort to localize Decorah's power loses by a handful of votes

Decorah Power officials are seeking a recount

Baker Village, which is powered by solar array, in Decorah on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Baker Village, which is powered by solar array, in Decorah on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DECORAH — With the votes finalized, Decorah Power’s attempts to pursue public power in the Winneshiek County town failed by a mere five votes.

Following Monday’s canvass, residents in the May 1 special election cast 1,385 votes opposed — and 1,380 votes in favor — of authorizing the Decorah City Council to pursue a municipalization request with the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates such matters

Emily Neal, a volunteer with Decorah Power, said Monday officials with the grass roots organization were collecting the necessary 28 votes to seek a recount of votes. Signatures must be submitted by the end of the day Thursday, she added.

“When you have an election that is less than essentially .1 percent difference, it’s just good democratic practice to do a recount,” she said.

If approved, the measure would have authorized the city council to further study municipalization of the city’s power, which would wrest control of the city’s electric utilities away from incumbent provider Alliant Energy. Ultimately such a move would require approval from the Iowa Utilities Board.

Decorah Power members say local control would provide lower energy rates and more control over the community’s use of renewable power.

Officials with Alliant Energy — which has provided power to Decorah for a century — say cutting ties with Alliant could raise energy rates and put local reliability at risk.

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Campaign finance reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board show that Decorah Power spent less than $23,000 — raised through donations and fundraising — largely on advertising, signage and mailing materials.

“It’s pretty incredibly when you think what we were up against, we were outspent nearly 5-to-1.” Neal told The Gazette last week. “It was an uphill battle for us the whole time. That we came this close, I’m so proud of all out volunteers and supporters.”

Alliant Energy, operating a campaign called the Committee for Decorah’s Energy Future, spent more than $105,000 on items such as advertising, consultant services and campaign signs.

Decorah’s multiyear franchise agreement with Alliant expires this summer. Negotiations will take place during the agreement’s renewal.

“We want to thank the record number of Decorah citizens who participated in the election, along with the many volunteers who worked tirelessly to share our story with residents throughout Decorah,” Alliant Spokesman Mike Wagner said in a Monday news release. “The results from this election will allow us to continue working with families, businesses, elected officials and more to meet the community’s energy goals.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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