Iowa town narrowly rejects break from Alliant

Source: By Robert Walton, Utility Dive • Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2018

  • An Iowa town has narrowly rejected a proposal to break away from Alliant Energy and form a municipal utility. The margin was so tight that a recount effort is already underway.
  • Residents of Decorah, Iowa, voted 1,385 to 1,380 against municipalization, though Energy News Network reports supporters of the effort are circulating petitions for a recount. Proponents of the muni push, however, are not getting their hopes up.
  • The effort, dubbed Decorah Power, seeks to oust Alliant-owned Interstate Power & Light over frustrations that the utility has not done enough to develop renewable power.

While a recount could change things, Alliant Energy said in a statement that it just wanted to get back down to business.

“We hope the results from this election will allow us to continue working with families, businesses, elected officials and more to meet the community’s energy goals,” Mike Wagner, an Alliant spokesman, said in a statement to Utility Dive.

The Des Moines Register reported Alliant spent more than $100,000 on its fight against the muni campaign. By comparison, Decorah Power raised less than $40,000.

Decorah Power won approval from the Decorah City Council, raised funds and commissioned a feasibility study from NewGen Strategies and Solutions to examine the issue. The study concluded that municipalization could save the community $5 million annually.

Andy Johnson, director of the Winneshiek Energy District and board member of Decorah Power, said that if the recount stands then it will mean the end of the muni effort for Decorah in the near future.

“Iowa code allows communities to hold a referendum on the issue no more frequently than every four years,” Johnson told Utility Dive in an email. “We’ll see where the community and city council are at in a few years … and also, whether other communities in Iowa have made attempts in the interim.”

Johnson faults the utility business model, which he says is not designed to keep local dollars in the community, particularly given shifts in the industry. “The economic, equity, and stewardship interests of customers and communities is increasingly diverging from the interests of investor-owned utilities,” he said.

Decorah Power is now in the process of disbanding, he told Utility Dive.

Forming a muni can be a long process. The town’s vote does not require any action, but acts more as a survey.

In Boulder, Colo., similar efforts to break away from Xcel Energy have dragged on for years, but the city continues with its efforts. Boulder filed its first application in 2015; in November, voters authorized the city to continue efforts to form a municipal utility, signing off on spending $16.5 million over the next three years.