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IA-Sen: Braley learns painful lesson in 21st century campaigning (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 17:59:19 PM CDT

Every candidate for public office has to learn basic rules of campaigning, such as, "Every mic is a live mic." In other words, always assume you may be overheard when you stand next to a microphone, even if you think it's not turned on.

In the age of camera phones and YouTube, candidates may be speaking into a live mic even when there's no microphone to be seen. Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, learned that lesson the hard way today.  

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Ethanol Hearing

by: Francis Thicke

Thu Jan 23, 2014 at 21:15:57 PM CST

(In addition to earning a Ph.D in agronomy/soil science, Thicke is an organic farmer and was the Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Today I attended the hearing put on by Governor Branstad to bash the EPA for proposing to change the rules on the Renewable Fuels Standard for ethanol.  It was an all-day pepfest for ethanol.  I came late, but I think was the only one to talk about the "other side" of ethanol.Here are my remarks (although the footnote explanations and references don't come through):
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Corn ethanol under attack, or is it?

by: black desert nomad

Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 01:06:46 AM CST

(Here's a view you won't hear from Iowa elected officials of either party. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Later this week state and regional agribusiness leaders will gather at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to cheerlead for corn ethanol.  The agenda for this “Hearing in the Heartland” is to rail against a proposed update to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bipartisan entrenchment against the update suggests corn ethanol is being somehow threatened, but despite the fanfare it really isn’t.

The EPA’s update to the 2007 law deals mostly with 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels. The proposed volume requirements don't hinder corn ethanol; the grain mandates shifts a few percent as business models tend to do when they are updated after 7 years.  The long-term prospects for next generation biofuels also remain strong. So why an update?  Projections for next generation biofuel have not panned out, yet. Simply put: science & engineering need to catch up to ambitious policy.

Corn ethanol was always meant as a stepping stone to “advanced” biofuels. The RFS update only seriously impedes corn if convoluted math is done to figure corn as the stop-gap filler for our old overestimates for next generation biofuels. Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest.  

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"Alarm bells" over impact of new trade agreement on states' rights

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 13:05:24 PM CST

"States' rights" has typically been a rallying cry among American conservatives, but six Democratic Iowa legislators are concerned that the Trans-Pacific Partnership now being negotiated may infringe on local control and states' ability to legislate in the public interest. In an open letter, 43 state lawmakers have asked 23 state attorneys general, including Iowa's Tom Miller, to analyze the Trans-Pacific Partnership's possible impact on state and local governments.

I've enclosed the text of the letter below, along with a news release on the initiative from the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. The Iowans who signed are State Representatives Chuck Isenhart, Marti Anderson, Dan Kelley and Curt Hanson, and State Senators Bill Dotzler and Joe Bolkcom. The letter spells out ten areas of state regulation that signers fear could be undermined by the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Isenhart stressed that the lawmakers' concerns go beyond environmental issues, citing Iowa's support for the biofuels industry as well as state policies to protect consumers and discourage smoking.

President Barack Obama is seeking to fast-track the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Activists who oppose the trade agreement have criticized the secrecy surrounding the negotiations as well as the agreement's tilt toward corporations and potential to undermine environmental and public health protections.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user cocinero notes in the comments that the American Cancer Society is concerned about this trade agreement. At the end of this post I've enclosed a joint statement from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Mid-week open thread: Coal is not cheap edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 19:55:00 PM CST

Here's your mid-week open thread, Bleeding Heartland readers: all topics welcome. Earlier this evening, Governor Terry Branstad made his re-election campaign official. I'll post a roundup of news clips and highlights tomorrow morning.

One thing's been bothering me all week. We hear so much about how renewable energy is too expensive for consumers compared to coal and other fossil fuels used to generate electricity. But we don't often calculate the hidden costs of this allegedly "cheap" coal. Even under normal circumstances, coal takes an enormous toll on human health every step of the way, from mining to combustion to waste disposal. Chronic illnesses shorten lives, reduce productivity and can be expensive to treat.

Costs escalate when a catastrophe happens like last week's chemical spill in West Virginia. Not only were 300,000 people in the area left without usable water for days, residents of Cincinnati may be affected too as the pollution flows downstream. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the emergency water deliveries and probably most of the cleanup. The government board that will investigate the chemical spill lacks the resources to do its job properly.

Here's some good news, though, courtesy of the Iowa Environmental Council's blog:

Iowa is also making progress retiring coal-fired generation.  In fact, a recent announcement by Alliant energy that it will convert its M.L. Kapp station in Clinton to burn natural gas means that Iowa utilities have announced over one gigawatt of coal retirement in the last year.  These announcements include three Iowa plants involved in a settlement over Clean Air Act violations the Sierra Club reached with MidAmerican Energy last year.

Click through for a table showing coal-fired plants in Iowa that will either close or shift to natural gas. (Disclosure: I'm involved with the Iowa Environmental Council but not with their blog.)

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IA-Sen, IA-Gov: Braley and Branstad go to bat for biofuels (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 11:36:00 AM CST

Last month Iowa politicians from both parties expressed outrage after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard on how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. At an EPA hearing in Washington today, Representative Bruce Braley (a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) and Governor Terry Branstad both testified against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. Several Iowa farmers and representatives of corn and soybeans growers also spoke and met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy afterwards.

After the jump I've posted a statement from Braley's office containing highlights from his remarks and a link to the video. Branstad warned that reducing the RFS could lead to another farm crisis like the one Iowa experienced during the 1980s. I will add more details from his testimony if they become available. I expect both Braley and Branstad to feature their advocacy for ethanol and biodiesel in their campaigns for the U.S. Senate and governor next year.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that last month, Branstad's re-election campaign created a "Protect the Renewable Fuel Standard" website. I've added more details on that effort below. Like the pro-Olympic wrestling site the campaign launched earlier this year, ProtectTheRFS.com presents as a petition supporting a popular cause in Iowa, doubling as a way to build the Branstad campaign's contact list.

The progressive 501(c)4 group Americans United for Change announced today that it will run a commercial on Des Moines-based television stations to support the Renewable Fuels Standard. Scroll to the end of this post for the video and transcript. The ad encourages viewers to send their comments to the EPA by visiting a website called SavetheRFS.com (a list-building effort like the one Branstad's campaign created). The veterans political action committee VoteVets.org, which is part of the Americans United for Change coalition, operates SavetheRFS.com.

SECOND UPDATE: Added more comments from Branstad below.

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Weekend open thread: Outrages of the week

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 08:05:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. Here are a few links to get a conversation started.

A Polk County district court ruling related to one of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz's pet projects called attention to the fact that Schultz was in Switzerland for the American Swiss Foundation's 24th annual Young Leaders Conference, a weeklong event. Whether the secretary of state should attend a foreign junket like this at any time is debatable. But it's ridiculous for him to have planned to be out of town when Iowa's 99 county auditors were gathering in Des Moines to discuss election-related issues. The Iowa Democratic Party and the only declared Democratic candidate for secretary of state blasted Schultz. I've posted their comments below, along with the official defense from the Iowa Secretary of State's spokesman.

Speaking of Schultz's pet projects, here's some important news from last month: the federal judge who wrote a key ruling upholding Indiana's voter ID law now believes he got that case wrong.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that it is proposing to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard on how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. The announcement upset Iowa elected officials from both parties. After the jump I've posted statements from Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and all of the Iowans in Congress except for Representative Tom Latham (R, IA-03), who has not commented on this issue to my knowledge.

The Associated Press reported this week on how the push to produce corn-based ethanol has damaged the environment in Iowa and elsewhere.

One last outrage: Will Potter reported for Mother Jones about a case that "could make it harder for journalists and academics to keep tabs on government agencies." The FBI is going to court to prevent its "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester from accessing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.

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IA-01: Two celebrity endorsements for Anesa Kajtazovic

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 13:25:00 PM CDT

During the past ten days, two people who are well-known to Iowa Democrats have endorsed Anesa Kajtazovic for Congress: Tim Dwight and Zach Wahls. A former Iowa Hawkeyes star and successful professional football player, Dwight now runs the solar energy company iPowerCorp and is president of the Iowa Solar/Small Wind Energy Trade Association. In recent years he has lobbied state legislators to help make Iowa a leader in "distributed generation, which is solar, small wind and also solar thermal." Distributed generation holds many economic benefits beyond what Iowa gains through large wind farms.

Since her first election to the Iowa House in 2010, Kajtazovic has recognized the huge potential for solar energy in Iowa. She has supported several bills to promote solar power, including new state tax credits enacted in 2012. That law reduced the payback time for small solar power systems installed in Iowa homes and businesses. Dwight described her as "a true champion for solar." After the jump I've posted the press releases announcing support from Dwight and Wahls and a video of Kajtazovic discussing her work on solar power.

Wahls gained national fame as an advocate for marriage equality when a video of his comments to an Iowa House hearing went viral in 2011. He was a speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. John Deeth was to my knowledge the first to report that Wahls was supporting Kajtazovic for Congress. On Monday, her campaign confirmed that endorsement.

Underscoring the candidate's appeal to a younger generation, Dwight spoke of Kajtazovic's "fresh ideas," while Wahls said "it's time for fresh, new voices" in Washington. Kajtazovic is the only candidate under age 50 in the five-way Democratic primary to represent IA-01. In the press release announcing Wahls' support, she condemned former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum's views on equality for LGBT couples. Santorum recently endorsed State Representative Walt Rogers, a Republican candidate in IA-01. Whatever other issues may divide Democratic voters in this district, you can bet that all of them dislike Santorum's politics.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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MidAmerican Wind Property Tax

by: greggheide

Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 21:47:12 PM CDT

(Thanks to Gregg Heide for digging into this issue. We all support wind energy projects, but the numbers below suggest that some school districts near a major MidAmerican Energy wind farm "might be due more [tax] revenue than they are receiving now." - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I've been trying to discover if MEC is paying the correct amount of property taxes at their wind farm located near me.  The quick answer is- I don't think they are- due to information (mostly a lack of information) provided by MEC employee Dean Crist.   An earlier post on this subject can be found here. Interested folks are invited to examine more posts on this subject at my blog.

To recap:  I became curious about how Pocahontas County determined the rates for the MidAmerican (MEC) wind project in the county. The assessor's office provided me with a property tax appraisal for the wind farm (constructed in three phases), for the first 131 turbines - $2,580,000 ($1720 per kW), the next 39 at $2,850,000 ($1,900 per kW) and $3,660,000 ($1591 per kW) for the final 13. The assessor's office reluctantly provided basic filings (after an attorney requested them in writing) submitted to the county by MEC that roughly match the assessments, listing met tower, land, turbines, and substation costs. Phase 1 & 2 are 1.5 megawatt turbines. Phase 3 turbines are 2.3 megawatts.

The following numbers were provided by Mr. Crist:

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Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Energy and environment

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 12:31:31 PM CDT

This summer the U.S. House has approved several energy-related bills, which could affect public health and the environment as well as corporations in the oil, gas and coal sectors. As we saw last year, Iowa's four U.S. representatives don't consistently split on party lines when such bills come to the House floor.

Follow me after the jump for details on the latest energy legislation approved in the lower chamber. None of these bills are likely to pass the current U.S. Senate, but they would have better prospects if Republicans won a Senate majority in the 2014 elections.

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Iowa Utilities Board update, with background on Sheila Tipton and Nick Wagner

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 13:23:00 PM CDT

Catching up on news from last Friday, Governor Terry Branstad appointed Des Moines-based attorney Sheila Tipton to fill a term on the Iowa Utilities Board that runs through April 2015. Tipton replaces Swati Dandekar, who resigned earlier this month, presumably with a view toward running for Congress. After the jump I've posted background on Tipton. Her law practice has primarily focused on representing "energy, telecommunications and water public utilities and other business entities" before state and federal agencies. She will be subject to Iowa Senate confirmation during the 2014 legislative session. I don't envision her having any trouble during that process.

For decades, the Iowa Utilities Board had at least one attorney among its three members. Branstad broke with that tradition when he named Dandekar to a vacancy in 2011. Earlier this year, the governor sought to appoint another non-lawyer, former GOP State Representative Nick Wagner, to the same board. He later withdrew Wagner's nomination, which was in trouble in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate. But one day after the legislature adjourned for this year, Branstad named Wagner to the Iowa Utilities Board on an interim basis. Wagner will also be subject to confirmation during the 2014 legislative session. After the jump I've posted Wagner's official bio and some background on Senate Democrats' concerns about confirming him to this position.

Any comments related to the new appointees or the work of the Iowa Utilities Board are welcome in this thread. Incidentally, there is already another Republican candidate in the Iowa House district where Democrat Daniel Lundby defeated Wagner in the 2012 general election.

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Weekend open thread: High-tech, low return edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 21, 2013 at 09:55:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I've been thinking about some high-tech failures. For instance, genetically-modified seeds were supposed to solve farmers' weed problems. Yet weeds resistant to glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide) are "gaining ground" across Iowa. The problem is worse on farms where Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds have been planted the longest.

Rootworms "resistant to one type of genetically engineered corn" are also a growing problem. Genetically-modified seed was supposed to make corn plants poisonous to rootworm, but now farmers are "deploying more chemical pesticides than before." The outcome was predictable.

On a related note, research shows that nitrogen enrichment through added fertilizers can hurt plant diversity and productivity of grasslands in the long term.

Some Midwestern cities and towns "are absorbing a financial beating after betting big on an innovative coal-fired power plant" during the last decade. "Clean coal" was always a boondoggle.

Speaking of costly investments, the state of Iowa continues to shovel tax credits to Orascom for a fertilizer plant project that would have been built in Iowa anyway. But hey, what's another $25 million?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Thanks and best wishes to David Osterberg

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 02, 2013 at 08:10:00 AM CDT

David Osterberg stepped down yesterday as executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, Iowa's leading think tank. A legendary figure in this state's environmental community, Osterberg served six terms in the Iowa House, chairing the Agriculture Committee for four years and the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee for two years. He has received honors and awards from many non-profit organizations and was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate against Chuck Grassley in 1998.

In 2001, Osterberg created the Iowa Policy Project "to bring a fact-based focus to public policy issues affecting Iowa families." The organization's research reports and Iowa Policy Points blog are must-reads for anyone interested in state policy. In conjunction with the Des Moines-based Child and Family Policy Center, the Iowa Policy Project also publishes valuable research on the Iowa Fiscal Partnership website. The latest Iowa Fiscal Partnership report shows how food assistance programs in the Farm Bill affect thousands of Iowans.

I was pleased to read in the statement enclosed below that Osterberg will keep working with the Iowa Policy Project on energy and environment research, and longtime assistant director Mike Owen will take over as executive director.  

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Obama cabinet update: several confirmed but two nominees in trouble

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 15:16:00 PM CDT

It's been a while since Bleeding Heartland covered the status of President Barack Obama's cabinet nominees. Within the last week, senators have confirmed three nominees with little controversy. However, Republicans appear determined to block two highly-qualified appointees: Thomas Perez and Gina McCarthy.

Details on recent cabinet confirmation votes are after the jump, along with background on the latest to be confirmed, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  

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MidAmerican drops plans for nuclear power plant (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 04, 2013 at 08:15:00 AM CDT

Bullet dodged: MidAmerican Energy announced yesterday that it will not pursue plans to build a new nuclear power plant in Iowa. Details are in this front-page story in today's Des Moines Register. MidAmerican was conducting a three-year feasibility study (paid for by its customers) and had considered sites in Fremont and Muscatine counties for a nuclear power plant. However, utility officials determined that federal officials have not approved the modular design MidAmerican wanted to build. (They can't say they weren't warned.)

I encourage you to click through and read the whole Register article by Perry Beeman and William Petroski. Excerpts are after the jump. Thanks to the environmental organizations and AARP, which fought MidAmerican's efforts to bill ratepayers in advance for building a nuclear power plant. Legislation toward that end cleared the Iowa House in 2011 and an Iowa Senate committee the following year but never came up for a vote in the full Senate amid strong Democratic opposition.

Last month MidAmerican announced a planned $1.9 billion investment in wind energy, which "will add up to 1,050 megawatts of wind generation and up to 656 new wind turbines in Iowa by year-end 2015."

UPDATE: MidAmerican's feasibility study is online here (pdf). The company's official statement and excerpts from Dar Danielson's report for Radio Iowa are now after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: Added local reaction from Joe Jarosz's report for the Muscatine Journal.

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Latest IA-Sen news: taxes, spending, and problem solving

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 22, 2013 at 11:15:00 AM CDT

Time for another discussion thread on the race for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat. Recent news on the campaign is after the jump.
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Bruce Braley explains his support for Keystone XL

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 09:45:00 AM CDT

Last week, Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) voted for a bill that would force the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. He did not send out any press release explaining that vote.

A Bleeding Heartland reader contacted Braley about his support for Keystone XL and shared the congressman's reply. I've posted it after the jump, along with information challenging some of Braley's assertions.

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IA-01: Swati Dandekar speculation thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 24, 2013 at 07:55:00 AM CDT

Former State Representative and State Senator Swati Dandekar is reportedly considering a bid for the open first Congressional district seat.  
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Bruce Braley is no Tom Harkin

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 16:45:00 PM CDT

The breaking news in Iowa politics this afternoon is Senator Tom Harkin "officially" endorsing Representative Bruce Braley for U.S. Senate. Why this is supposed to be newsworthy, I can't explain.

The under-the-radar but more important news is that during a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, Braley joined conservative Democrats and all the Republicans to vote for H.R. 3, a bill mandating approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. An Energy and Commerce Committee press release explaining the purpose of this bill is after the jump.

For now let's leave aside the many environmental arguments against building the Keystone XL pipeline, and the big problems with the State Department's draft environmental impact statement on the project.

Braley is smart enough to know that Keystone XL won't create the thousands of jobs proponents claim. In fact, the pipeline is more likely to increase than decrease gasoline prices in the Midwest. Maybe Braley's longstanding support for Keystone XL is a gesture toward the labor unions that support the project, or maybe it's more convenient to vote for fake jobs than to explain why the jobs propaganda is wrong. Most of the House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee oppose this bill. Braley's companions, aside from the committee Republicans, were John Barrow of Georgia, Gene Green of Texas, and Jim Matheson of Utah. They aren't pro-labor but have extremely poor voting records on the environment, a lot worse than Braley's.

Harkin has always been a strong supporter of organized labor, but he didn't let that cloud his judgment on Keystone XL. He has voted against that project repeatedly, most recently during the Senate's federal budget "vote-o-rama" last month. Iowa will be worse off without Harkin in the Senate.

UPDATE: Corrected the second paragraph to note that Braley voted for this bill when the full Energy and Commerce Committee approved it on April 17, not during the subcommittee meeting the previous day. Corrected the fourth paragraph to note that three other House Democrats supported the bill during the full committee vote. Added more details on the case against this bill after the jump.  

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Iowa Court Ruling Favors Distributed Generation

by: greggheide

Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 13:25:04 PM CDT

(Important story: more background on the Iowa Environmental Council blog and at the Vote Solar website. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Today (April 12), Midwest Energy News ran the first coverage I've seen on an Iowa district court ruling in favor of allowing solar installers to install PV systems on a customers property and enter into a power purchase agreement with that customer.While great news, I'll explain why you may not want to get overly excited over this development. I'll apologize in advance for sounding like a grumpy curmudgeon. I'm a fun guy,Really!!

There are reasons I'm sounding glass half empty here. First, this ruling could be appealed (and over turned by a higher court). This happened in 2005 when the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its ruling that required rural electric cooperatives to offer net metering. Let"s hope this recent ruling fares better. Still, as the good folks quoted in the article note, this decision will no doubt influence other court and utility commission rulings around the country. That's good news.

The next reason I'm only moderately excited here is that this ruling only affects one financing method for solar PV, not any of the underlying regulatory changes necessary for its use to become widespread in Iowa. Many Iowans don't have access to net metering or standard interconnection procedures (investor owned utilities only, not RECs and Municipals). They also can't get a fair price for electricity sales. Remember that feed in tariff legislation I've been blogging about? The state Senate Democrats were unable to bring SF372 to the senate floor for a vote. Chalk up another one for the utility lobby. So, if you're dealing with any or all of these issues, you probably don't care much about leasing a PV system. Your potential PV system salesman won't be very interested either.

Also, there are ways to structure a lease agreement without entering into a Power Purchase agreement with your PV salesman. Ideally, leases should also save you money over your current monthly electric bill and eventually enable you the option to own the asset. Leasing does have its place, schools, hospital, and other non-profit entities will be interested for sure.

Finally, my opinion is that third party PPA leasing will be mostly used by customers interconnecting to Alliant energy, a utility with relatively high Iowa retail electric rates, net metering, and standard interconnection procedures. I see this as a continuation of the unequal experience Iowans have when trying build renewable energy systems. Solar installs in Alliant Energy service territory have become fairly easy and will become commonplace. Iowans working with other Iowa utilities could have more difficulties or find out it is almost impossible to build the same system. This unequal treatment for Iowa ratepayers will most likely result in more constituent calls to Iowa legislators to fix these regulatory issues and level the playing field in Iowa. Hopefully Iowa policy advocates will also unite and send a clear message to Iowa legislators about the policy changes Iowa needs to advance locally owned renewable energy. This court ruling should help move our state in the right direction.

 Gregg Heide


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