By RICK OLESEN
As the Iowa Legislature was debating budget cuts in late April, you may have heard the Iowa Energy Center brought up in discussions and media coverage. Senate File 513 was passed and signed by the governor in May, which will transfer control of the Iowa Energy Center from Iowa State University’s administration to the leadership of the Iowa Energy Office, which is housed within the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). ISU fully supports this new and expanded role of the center, as do Iowa’s electric cooperatives.
The Iowa General Assembly created the Iowa Energy Center as an energy research and outreach center back in 1990. The mission of the center is to assist Iowans in assessing technology related to energy efficiency and alternative energy production systems, as well as to support educational programs that encourage energy efficiency. The Center receives more than $4 million annually through a ratepayer tax of 0.1 percent of the annual operating revenues of Iowa’s natural gas and electric utilities.
Over the years, Iowa consumers have certainly benefitted from these initiatives; many co-op member-owners received valuable information from the Iowa Energy Center when researching the benefits of onsite wind and solar generation. The center also provided significant research assistance to the renewable fuels industry in developing and refining ethanol and biodiesel fuels for many years.
In 2016, the Iowa Energy Center worked with electric utilities, including Iowa’s electric co-ops, to publish a resourceful Solar Energy PV Guide to educate homeowners on the process and information needed to install consumer-owned solar generation. You can download the guide at www.iowaenergycenter.org/resources.
During the past 27 years since the Iowa Energy Center was founded, the energy industry and Iowa’s energy landscape have changed dramatically. Energy efficiency and conservation are now normalized and successful in the marketplace, and Iowa is a top leader in renewable energy generation. The Iowa Energy Plan, published in December 2016, recommends the following as part of Strategy 2.2 to foster collaboration (from Page 43):
“While both entities have similar missions, the scope of the Iowa Energy Office [housed within the IEDA] is broader than that of the Iowa Energy Center. This overlap presents opportunities for improved coordination, clarification of roles and alignment of initiatives at both entities.
“In addition, as the current structure of the Iowa Energy Center has limited oversight outside of Iowa State University, the recommended coordination [with the Iowa Energy Office and IEDA] may improve transparency in how Iowa ratepayer funds are used.”
The Iowa Energy Plan, led by then Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, recommends that the Iowa Energy Center be moved under the jurisdiction of the Iowa Energy Office and the IEDA, where it can focus on supporting underserved rural areas, expand the energy sector’s workforce, work with manufacturers to commercialize technologies, build the market for electric vehicles and advise utilities on cybersecurity preparedness. You can download a copy of the plan at http://www.iowaenergyplan.org/resources.html
Iowa’s electric cooperatives have been calling for a thorough review and audit of the Iowa Energy Center for years to ensure that it’s operating in the best interests of ratepayers, who are Iowa consumers like you. We support the transfer of authority to the IEDA to ensure the center’s operational transparency and accountability to ratepayers while continuing to provide guidance on ways to conserve energy and expand renewable technology.
Rick Olesen is the president and CEO of Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative and the electric cooperative representative serving on the Iowa Energy Center’s advisory council.