Government

Iowa House approved utility changes after all-night debate

The State Capitol is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The State Capitol is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — After debating through the night, Iowa lawmakers approved legislations majority Republicans say will return $200 million to utility ratepayers the first year and $100 million a year after that.

Democrats, who opposed Senate File 2311, said the bill will result in higher energy costs and less support for energy efficiency programs underwritten by ratepayers and utility companies.

The Iowa House began debate on the bill around 10 p.m. and voted 52-42 at 5:10 a.m. Friday to send the amended version of SF 2311 back to the Senate for concurrence.

Backers of the bill said the current utility laws are outdated and need to be changed to lower energy costs to consumers, incentivize natural gas utilities to expand into rural and underserved areas and relax regulations on cooperative sand municipal utilities.

Among Iowa utilities, Alliant Energy is registered in favor of SF 2311 and MidAmerican Energy is undecided.

Energy efficiency advocates are decidedly opposed to the provisions that would reduce the amount utility consumers pay for programs such as weatherization and reducing consumption.

SF 2311 goes to the heart of energy policies Democrats have supported for more decades, said Rep. Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque, the ranking Democrat on the Environmental Protection Committee.

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“As an energy environmental policy matter, the way I look at it is that every electron we take off the demand side is one less electron we have to produce on the supply side,” he said. “So energy efficiency is good for our carbon reduction policies. It’s also good for our renewable energy infrastructure as an alternative to coal, natural gas and nuclear.”

Republicans emphasized transparency, saying that many ratepayers don’t know that part of their utility bill is for energy efficiency programs whether they participate or not.

Among the amendments to the bill offered by floor manager Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, was one to cap the energy efficiency funds at 2 percent of a monthly utility bill.

To facilitate the all-night debate, lawmakers suspended a House rule prohibiting voting after midnight, a rule adopted by majority Republicans.

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

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