Environmental groups: Alliant Energy puts shareholder profits above its customers with lackluster efficiency plan

Last month, the Council’s energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, explained our involvement in supporting strong utility energy efficiency plans before the Iowa Utilities Board this year.  On April 16, the Council and our partners filed our first testimony concerning Alliant Energy.

Interstate Power & Light, a Cedar Rapids-based subsidiary of Alliant Energy, has proposed saving roughly half as much energy through efficiency initiatives as its own analysis suggests is possible, a coalition of environmental organizations told the Iowa Utilities Board in testimony filed Tuesday.   Their testimony, which marks the beginning of debate over Alliant’s five year energy efficiency plan, comes at the same time Alliant has proposed a new natural-gas fired power plant to be constructed near Marshalltown.

“Energy efficiency is the most cost effective method for meeting rising electric demand.  Alliant knows that one dollar spent on energy efficiency efforts can return as much as two or three dollars in economic benefit, but the company proposed pursuing less than half of the energy efficiency gains available to it,” said Nathaniel Baer, whose organization, the Iowa Environmental Council, participated in the filing with the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Policy Project.

Indeed, a 2012 report by the Cadmus Group, a Massachusetts-based energy consulting firm, which was commissioned by Iowa utilities including Alliant, suggested Alliant could save over 2% of annual retail electric sales through cost-effective efficiency methods, while the utility has proposed saving just over 1%.

“When we considered the wide range of cost-effective efficiency opportunities available to Alliant, in addition to the utilities’ own analysis, it became clear to us that doubling Alliant’s proposed efficiency savings is readily achievable. The utility has an obligation to save as much energy as possible through its efficiency programs before it builds a new power plant,” said Josh Mandelbaum of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Iowa Utilities Board leadership now is necessary to maintain the economic benefits and consumer savings from energy efficiency into the future,” Mandelbaum said.

Based on past programs Iowa has been recognized as a national leader in energy efficiency.  The state’s leadership has brought many benefits to Iowa utility customers, including keeping electric rates low, reducing the need for imported fossil fuels, keeping air and water clean, and providing jobs in communities across the state.

According to the environmental groups, a range of strong utility managed efficiency programs are the key to realizing efficiency’s potential for Iowa.  The groups’ testimony identified several ways Alliant can strengthen its program offerings:

  • The industrial sector, the largest group of energy users, is of particular interest for efficiency gains.  Many industrial customers are good candidates for utilizing combined heat and power (CHP) technology to produce two types of energy they need from one generation source.  Significant potential for CHP is available in Iowa, including by other large institutional utility customers like colleges and hospitals.
  • Alliant should not cancel its innovative program for customer-sited renewable energy installations like solar photovoltaic (PV) just as the program is gaining momentum with customers.
  • Alliant should capitalize on the latest research on consumer behavior, which shows ratepayers are more motivated to save energy when they are made aware if their energy use exceeds their neighbors’.
  • Alliant should support a transition to high-efficiency lighting including LED technology in its service territory as well as achieving efficiency gains in power-hungry data centers including those operated by large information technology companies as well as those in local businesses hospitals, colleges, and other institutions.

The environmental groups plan to address a similar range of efficiency programs offered by MidAmerican Energy in testimony to be submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board in June.  Proceedings to address and finalize both utilities’ five-year plans will continue through the summer.  The plans take effect next year.

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