Iowa utilities’ energy efficiency proposals short on savings

A  review of five-year energy efficiency plans  submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board by MidAmerican Energy Company and Alliant Energy shows utilities are failing to deliver programs that will maximize the benefits of energy efficiency.

Utility energy efficiency programs save customers money by cutting wasted energy and by reducing the need for costly new power plants. The programs protect the environment by lowering demand for fossil fuels, and they create good jobs in Iowa for professionals who install energy efficient technologies and perform energy audits.

Energy efficiency programs take a range of forms including rebates for residential customers who weatherize their homes or purchase more efficient appliances and heating and cooling equipment and offering large commercial customers incentives to install efficient lighting or motors that waste less energy.

In testimony filed with the Board Monday, the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center and their partners demonstrated that MidAmerican Energy’s proposed programs would achieve just about half of what is possible and cost-effective through efficiency programs.

In testimony filed in April, the groups identified a similar problem with Alliant Energy’s proposed plan.

MidAmerican has proposed investing over $374 million to help customers save 1,053,832 megawatt-hours (MWh) over five years. The utility could increase those investments and improve its programs to help customers save 1,905,675 MWh over the same time period, or 80% more. All additional energy saved would still be cost-effective – in other words, the economic benefits would be greater than $1 for every $1 invested.

“We reviewed an analysis commissioned by MidAmerican Energy to identify savings that would be possible through cost-effective energy efficiency programs,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council.  “But rather than maximizing the customer savings recommended by their own study, the utility has proposed business-as-usual practices that will commit customers to paying for more expensive energy resources down the road.”

“In its own rules, the Iowa Utilities Board has stated that ‘implementation of effective energy efficiency plans’ is ‘of the highest priority,'” said Josh Mandelbaum, Iowa staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.  “The Board should act on that principle by setting a goal for investor owned utilities to achieve all of the cost-effective energy efficiency gains they can.”

MidAmerican Energy’s plan largely ignores the potential available from advanced LED lighting technology, and has failed to embrace combined heat and power technologies that can help manufacturers, small businesses, universities, schools, and hospitals.

Highlights of the proposal include plans to motivate residential customers to use energy wisely and promote efficiency at power-hungry data centers.

“But there is so much more than can be done,” said Mandelbaum. “The bottom line is that energy efficiency is good for homeowners, good for businesses, good for job creation and good for the environment.”

Proceedings to settle both utilities’ plans will continue through the summer with decisions by the Utilities Board expected in the fall.  Both Alliant and MidAmerican’s efficiency plans will take effect in January.

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