Iowa Lawmakers Hear Bills to Scale Back Energy-Efficiency Programs

By Roz Brown, Public News Service - Iowa

A state Senate bill under consideration would scale back energy efficiency programs offered by utility companies such as home energy audits, benefits for home lighting upgrades and the rebates Iowans receive to install smart thermostats or energy-saving appliances. 

Katie Rock, policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, said an estimated 20,000 jobs in Iowa are linked to energy efficiency. She noted that Iowa reported 800 new jobs in the solar industry in 2017, a 45 percent increase over the previous year. 

She said any additional job gains in the solar industry could be undone by the bills under consideration.

"If you put a solar panel up on your house or your business to help lower costs, they could charge you a fee for that connection,” Rock said. “That's a discouragement to people to do distributed generation of small-scale solar or wind or geothermal or anything."

A 2014 survey showed 97 percent of Iowans support increasing energy efficiency to meet the state's energy needs. Rock said Senate Bill 3093 as amended by the Senate this week would make participation by the state's utility companies in energy-efficiency programs voluntary rather than mandatory. 

Those in favor of the legislation say the mandatory requirement that utility companies offer energy efficiency programs amounts to a hidden tax for consumers. But Rock argues that energy efficiency is a resource for people to use in their homes, and much cheaper than coal or gas.

"Every dollar that's invested in energy efficiency results in $2 to $3 in benefits,” she said. “And people need to start thinking about energy efficiency as the other energy source, just like wind and solar."

The Iowa bills mirror the Trump administration's goals included in the 2019 budget proposal to cut renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by 72 percent.