Government

Opponents say Iowa utility legislation would mean higher bills

'It contradicts every pillar of the Iowa Energy Plan'

(File photo) A smart meter (left) and solid-state digital meter are plugged into a testing board at the Alliant Energy operations center in northeast Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo) A smart meter (left) and solid-state digital meter are plugged into a testing board at the Alliant Energy operations center in northeast Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Small business owners are warning lawmakers that legislation to cap some energy efficiency programs and alter the Iowa Utilities Board oversight of investor-owned utilities threatens the foundations of the Iowa Energy Plan and the state’s leadership in clean energy.

Senate File 2311 “undermines Iowa’s clean energy leadership by effectively trying to end energy efficiency programs, allowing new charges on solar customers and removing consumer protections and oversight,” Amanda Zwanziger warned last week at a Statehouse news conference.

Zwanziger, owner of the RightHand LLC consulting firm of Des Moines, was a member of the Iowa Energy Plan working group and has been in the energy efficiency business 20 years.

The bill, which passed the Senate 27-23 and is on the House unfinished business calendar, would increase utility costs for consumers and threaten 21,000 solar and energy efficiency jobs in the state, she said.

“It contradicts every pillar of the Iowa Energy Plan,” Zwanziger said.

However, Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, called SF 2311 a work in progress.

“I can appreciate their position and I’m not sure SF 2311 meets the best needs for all Iowans regarding energy efficiency,” he said.

That’s why the House Commerce Committee plans to amend the bill to put a 2 percent cap on energy efficiency programs for electricity and 1.5 percent for natural gas utilities. The bill initially called for elimination.

SF 22311 would be good for utility customers, according to Anne Lenzen, director of regulatory affairs for Alliant Energy Corp., because it “updates several policies that promote regulatory efficiencies, help our customers save money, help Iowa remain a leader in renewable energy and policy and promote economic growth.”

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Zwanziger is not as sanguine about the proposed legislation. She believes it’s an attempt by utilities and some legislators to end energy efficiency programs, add new charges to customers who generate solar power and remove consumer oversight and protections.

Since 2016, she said, the benefits of Iowa utility laws and regulations have resulted in 6.3 million energy efficiency measures being installed in Iowa, with investor-owned utilities programs producing nearly $400 million in savings and cutting energy use by 10 percent. Iowa has the seventh-lowest electric rates among states due, in part, to renewable energy, she said.

“Quite simply, the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use,” Zwanziger said.

Right now, rebates and incentives are the only tools Iowans have to improve energy conservation and energy efficiency, she said.

“When we take away that piece and limit that piece, we take away the only tool we have to get those things accomplished,” Zwanziger said. Without incentives, she said, Iowans will use more energy, making it necessary for Alliant and others to build more generating capacity, which will cost consumers.

“It’s going to hurt us,” she said. “It will be felt in every house, in every business.”

Ratepayers now pay about 3 percent of their bill toward energy efficiency programs. The House version of SF 2311 caps that a 2 percent for electric and 1.5 percent for natural gas.

That reflects changes in energy use over the years since those energy efficiency programs were initiated, according to Lenzen and Justin Foss, an Alliant spokesman in Cedar Rapids.

“You can’t go out and buy a non-energy efficiency refrigerator anymore,” Foss said. Dishwashers, laundry appliances and lighting, for example, all meet higher energy efficiency standards than they did years ago.

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“The market is transforming. A lot has changed in 30 years,” Lenzen said, adding that Alliant would continue to support energy audits and insulation and weatherizing programs.

Despite her warnings of the impact of SF 2311, Zwanziger has not given up hope.

“I think there are a lot of right-minded lawmakers who are questioning how it stands right now,” she said. But given Gov. Kim Reynolds’ prominent role in developing the Iowa Energy Plan, Zwanziger doubts the governor wants to see SF 2311 land on her desk in its current form.

It’s too early to know if the governor will sign the bill, Carlson said.

“I think that’s a little bit ahead of our skis because we haven’t got it finalized,” he said. “We’ll get together on a bill that will be a practical bill for energy efficiency. Is it going meet everybody’s need? Probably not. Is it going to ruin everybody’s need? Probably not.”

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

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