Guest Columnist

Iowa's three-legged energy stool is at risk

A student performs a controlled descent from the nearly 300-foot wind turbine tower as part of their graduation from the Energy Production & Distribution Technology program at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids in 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A student performs a controlled descent from the nearly 300-foot wind turbine tower as part of their graduation from the Energy Production & Distribution Technology program at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids in 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowans are used to punching above our weight when it comes to energy. We lead on renewable energy. We have some of the best energy efficiency programs in the country. Our electricity rates are among the lowest in America.

This success didn’t happen by chance. Together, Iowans have worked hard to be pioneers. For over 12 years, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light has been inviting Iowans to put our faith into action to help our state become an energy leader.

Our strategy, informed by shared values from diverse faith traditions, focuses on a three-legged stool: personal responsibility; effective bipartisan legislation; and broad-based economic activity.

Iowa’s energy leadership depends on this three-legged stool and, unfortunately, the ability for individuals and businesses to take personal responsibility and invest in their own renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades has been undermined. While utilities have made public announcements — like MidAmerican’s plan for 100 percent renewable electricity and Alliant Energy’s new wind energy projects — they have worked hard behind the scenes to limit the ability of others to invest in renewable energy or make efficiency upgrades.

Iowa residents and businesses have made energy investments that help make Iowa an energy leader. We’ve put up solar arrays and wind generators on our farms, at our homes and around our congregations. We’ve taken energy efficiency very seriously in Iowa. Even though we use a great deal of energy on a per capita basis because of agriculture and industry, we implement energy saving practices to counter this demand.

Iowa’s energy leadership is built on a strong bipartisan public policy framework going back to 1983 when we passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard, requiring a certain amount of renewable energy from investor owned utilities. On top of that, we created state and supported federal tax credits to develop renewable industries in Iowa. We can celebrate bipartisan public policy going back almost three decades, including some of the best energy efficiency programs in America.

Iowa’s energy leadership is also a broad-based economic success story. The benefits of Iowa’s renewable industries are clear ­­— low and stable energy rates to attract manufacturers and other industries; abundant renewable energy to recruit companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft that are interested in reducing their environmental footprint; and the creation of thousands of jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors.

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Unfortunately, we damaged that three-legged stool when state leaders passed Senate File 2311 into law. The measure gives even more power to monopoly utilities, dramatically reduces popular energy efficiency programs, risks thousands of energy jobs, allows municipal utility customers to discriminate against solar customers, and reduces programs to help low-income Iowans stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

People of faith joined other advocates to defend renewable energy and defeat some of the most hostile provisions to Iowa energy consumers, but the damage to our three-legged stool is real and threats to our energy leadership profound.

In the upcoming election season, we will have the attention of leaders defending their seats and challengers hoping to take those seats. We need to speak out and leverage this attention to demand a continued commitment to a three-legged stool including personal responsibility, bipartisan public policy, and broad economic benefits.

Iowans expect our elected officials to use public policy to secure Iowa’s energy leadership. We need to let those who want to represent us know our faith calls us to demand energy policy that fosters care for creation, prioritizes affordable energy for all Iowans, and incentivizes job creation and investments in our communities. Now that we’ve seen the utilities’ proposals for how they want to implement this new law, this new law fails all three demands.

We need effective bipartisan public policy to support personal responsibility and broad-based economic activity. Otherwise, our leadership on energy won’t stand and announcements like MidAmerican’s renewable pledge will be a hollow promise rather than one of the keys to a bright future.

• Matt Russell is executive director of Interfaith Power and Light.

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