North Iowa’s investor-owned utilities have until Monday to submit five-year energy-efficiency plans to be approved by the Iowa Utilities Board no later than March of next year.
The plans are necessary after Iowa lawmakers approved legislation to limit how much utilities can spend on efficiency programs, a major blow to Iowans advocating for conservation programs that encouraged residents to reduce energy use.
Kerri Johannsen, manager of government affairs with the Iowa Environmental Council, says until now Iowa always has been a leader in trying to reduce energy use, which can mean fewer power plants.
It’s estimated that every dollar spent on energy efficiency returns two to three times that in savings. In recent years, Iowa’s electric utilities spent seven to eight percent of retail revenues on efficiency programs for customers. The new law limits them to spending only 2%. Supporters of the change say it will help lower customer utility bills and expand natural-gas service to rural areas.
Iowa’s legislation requiring that utilities offer energy-efficiency programs dates back to 1990. But Johannsen says the new legislation ties the hands of energy-conservation advocates who have tried to keep energy costs down and create jobs.
Public polls show 97% of Iowans support increasing energy efficiency, and 82% support requiring utilities to increase investment in energy efficiency. Nonetheless, the new law allows utility companies to reduce or even eliminate rebates for smart thermostats, energy-saving appliances and home energy audits.