Guest Columnist

Expand energy efficiency

Programs bridge financial gap between existing and most efficient technology

A wind turbine and solar panels are seen at a hog farm in rural Monticello on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
A wind turbine and solar panels are seen at a hog farm in rural Monticello on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Iowans should be ashamed of our legislators for passing Senate File 2311 last year.

In addition to a recent national survey that ranked Iowa 24th in the nation for its energy-efficiency efforts — Illinois was 12th and Minnesota was eighth — a new survey by the Iowa Environmental Council found even more reason to be concerned. Nearly 84 percent of the Iowa energy-efficiency businesses surveyed stated they expect lower sales in the next six to 12 months. More than half, 53 percent, expect to face laying off employees, and almost 40 percent anticipate workers will leave their company. Only 2 percent expect to hire more workers.

Our ranking might not seem important now, but energy efficiency programs long have been a critical tool for keeping Iowa’s energy bills affordable and moving the state toward a clean and renewable energy system. This quick, but unnecessary, decline should be cause for alarm.

The blame for our fall can be placed squarely on passage of SF 2311 in May. It placed restrictive caps on energy-efficiency programs and eliminated mandatory participation of municipal and rural electric co-ops. It prompted Alliant and MidAmerican Energy to update their five-year energy efficiency plans with the Iowa Utilities Board. Those revised plans significantly cut energy-efficiency budgets and eliminated some programs entirely.

How do I know? My company assists business and industry with design and installation of lighting solutions that cut both utility bills and maintenance costs. In my 30-plus years, I have witnessed the importance of energy-efficiency programs. Not only did they provide incentives to waste less energy, but the programs created savings for their customers, ultimately making Iowa’s businesses more competitive.

The programs are designed to bridge a financial gap between existing technology and the most efficient technology. Businesses used the rebates to help buy down the cost of implementing those measures.

This new legislation will mean longer paybacks for projects and fewer companies considering efficiency upgrades. The result will be the loss of customers for businesses such as mine, electrical contractors, mechanical contractors and the other energy-related jobs we support.

I am concerned that the passage of SF 2311 indicates a lack of understanding of the nature of energy efficiency, the rate of innovation we are seeing now, and the fact that Iowa will get left behind. New technologies are being developed at a rapid rate. Lighting is only one aspect of energy efficiency, including heating and cooling systems, insulation, windows and smart thermostats. Energy efficiency is an ongoing opportunity.

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If our legislators really want to improve our energy-efficiency programs, they would simplify and expand them. They would mandate participation of all utilities, create legislation that enables performance contracting and encourage streamlining the energy-efficiency programs between utilities. Simplifying and expanding energy-efficiency programs in Iowa will create more high-paying jobs, make our businesses more competitive, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

• Chad Palmer is president and CEO of Energyficient Systems in Burlington.

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