BY KEVIN CONDON
As a new year begins, so will the 2024 legislative session of the Iowa General Assembly. And as always, Iowa’s electric cooperatives will have a strong presence at the Iowa Statehouse to ensure lawmakers and their constituents understand clearly how policy proposals will impact rural Iowans. For more than 80 years, the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives has advocated on behalf of our members so state legislators can make informed decisions.
Protecting electric cooperative members
This year, Iowa’s electric co-ops are not proactively seeking significant changes to Iowa laws but are instead taking a “do no harm” message to Iowa policymakers. While there are tremendous challenges ahead in the energy industry, most of those debates occur on the national stage and will take place outside the halls of the Iowa Capitol.
Iowa lawmakers have gotten it right over the past several years as it pertains to setting the state’s energy strategy. Iowa electric co-ops can provide reliable power to our member-consumers without unnecessary interference from the state government. In Iowa, we have established a positive balance between central regulatory compliance and local flexibility.
Avoiding unnecessary regulations
Iowa’s electric cooperatives are prepared for various ideas to resurface from the last session, in addition to untangling new ideas that may be introduced in this session. Threats to Iowa’s service territory laws are ongoing and real. Calls to “deregulate” Iowa’s electric boundaries under the guise of “competition and choice” will result in higher electric bills for homes and farms, while “Big Data” tech companies laugh all the way to the bank.
We also expect to hear the phrase “integrated resource plans” (IRP) quite a bit this year. IRPs are simply a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” effort from special interest groups to take decision-making authority away from your local utility and shutter reliable power generation assets well before their useful life is up.
While the threat of rolling blackouts is real in many regions of the country, now is not the time to irresponsibly close dispatchable power plants. The Iowa Legislature shouldn’t require IRPs but instead could expand our energy strategy to incorporate even more of an “all the above” approach to include nuclear generation and energy storage technologies.
Focusing on safety threats
Unfortunately, we must also be concerned about threats to the safety of our electric infrastructure. Iowa electric co-ops follow the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) guidance on overhead line clearances to accommodate large agricultural and industrial equipment. There appears to be efforts to remove liability from a person who negligently damages electric infrastructure if contact is made, and they can prove the line was outside the NESC guidelines.
Safety is paramount at your co-op, and we are concerned about changing the law in a way that would almost encourage an equipment operator to hit a power line rather than simply call the co-op to move it.
We look forward to having respectful and productive discussions with state legislators again this year. We wish Iowa lawmakers a happy and successful new year and hope that they’ll remember the old saying when it comes to energy policy: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Kevin Condon is the director of government relations for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.