Terrible Iowa Senate energy bill returns – Michael Breitbach edition

Matt Chapman reports on the lengthy Iowa Senate debate over a bill that is terrible on many levels. You can watch the proceedings on video here, beginning around 9:07:30. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Republicans approved Senate File 2311, the omnibus energy bill, on March 6 after yet another late-into-the-evening debate this session. I guess the logic is the later it gets, the worse the legislation seems to be.

Commerce Committee chair Jake Chapman claimed in subcommittee that he wrote this legislation, so it was a little odd when Senator Michael Breitbach managed the bill on the floor. His opening comments were rather weak, but considering the realities of this bill I understand why Breitbach wanted to keep a low profile.

Minority Leader Janet Petersen then called for a caucus. After senators returned, the chamber began considering more than a dozen amendments.

Democratic Senator Rob Hogg, the author of several amendments, kicked off debate by stating, “This bill is a big piece of legislation, so it is appropriate that we’re here prime time having this debate.” Citing energy analyst Bob Latham, the brother of former Republican U.S. Representative Tom Latham, Hogg said that “this bill alone” would cost Alliant Energy Customers $139 million a year more. Hogg then offered an amendment that would strike every major part of Senate File 2311 dealing with energy efficiency.

He reminded colleagues that when then-Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds led the committee that developed the Iowa Energy Plan, they cited research showing 97 percent of Iowans supported energy efficiency. For that reason, efficiency became a pillar of the plan.

Senator Hogg related many facts demonstrating the success of Iowa’s energy efficiency programs. He read a letter from business leaders urging senators to oppose any bill that undermined such programs. Every dollar invested in efficiency returns two dollars. Iowa consumers save millions of dollars a year and have avoided the cost of constructing new power plants.

The majority party’s refusal to push back on this issue was not surprising. What can you do when you’re on the wrong side of a bill that is obviously not in the people’s best interest? You sneak it through in the evening and make sure to pass a flurry of bills before and after to obfuscate it.

Breitbach countered he hadn’t heard Democrats mention “who actually pays for these energy efficiency program? It’s the customers! […] These people don’t come out and give you this money for nothing.” (How this legislation would affect ratepayers’ energy bills had been addressed very clearly. Iowa’s Office of Consumer Advocate and a number of groups representing consumers have been lobbying against Senate File 2311.)

He kept grandstanding along those lines, never once addressing the two to one return on every dollar spent on efficiency. Maybe that’s because to Breitbach, the customer is big energy and the consumers exist only to be squeezed a bit more. He summed up arguing that it is morally wrong not to itemize everything the consumer pays on utility bills. Please remember that for later, because that position seemed to shift with the wind.

Democratic Senator Joe Bolkcom came out firing against “one of the dumbest bills this session.” (His speech begins around 9:18:00 of this video). Bolkcom pointed out that this bill would raise the utility bills of every Iowan and would kill thousands of jobs. Among the sorely needed knowledge he brought to the table:

• Iowans have saved $2 billion to $3 billion dollars by not having to build massive power plants, because of “our historic investment in energy efficiency.” That’s about $400 million dollars a year.
• Electricity costs in Iowa are some of the lowest in the country because we have invested in energy efficiency.

Republican Senator Mark Chelgren spoke next (around 9:21:00), asking Breitbach if he could explain what percentage of the contributions go to managing the energy efficiency programs. Breitbach said about 20 percent of the funds are spent on administration.

There was some theater between them, and Chelgren drove the point home that folks could opt out of efficiency programs if they wanted to. The Republicans talked a lot about siphoning money off here, but they said nothing about returns on investment or Iowa’s low-cost electricity.

Senator Chelgren then went on a tangent about how he needed a new washing machine. He said his old Maytag washer was on the fritz and the appliance guy told him all the new washers were from Mexico or China and wouldn’t last five years. He then name dropped a couple of old timey brands like Kenmore and Sears. That really muddied things up for a populist twist on his comments and I am sure as far as a distraction, it worked like a charm. The last bit he pulled was “trusting Iowans is better than trusting utility companies.”

Hogg rose to give closing remarks in support of his amendment (around 9:25:15).

Well, sometimes I don’t know what alternate universe I live in, but it’s always good to hear from the official spokesperson for the Senate Republicans. Um, wow! Um, it’s hard to know how to respond to some of those things.

Let me say this: these are proven programs that work. If you vote no on this amendment, you’re voting against 20,000 jobs in Iowa, 20,000 jobs in Iowa, and you’re voting to throw away a program that saves two dollars for every dollar that’s spent, raising rates. Don’t take my word for it [holds up a stack of papers from companies against this legislation], you’ve listened to the companies, you’ve listened to the Utilities Board. It saves all consumers money, whether you participate in the programs or not. That’s why Iowa has the lowest electrical rates in the region. […]

And you are proposing a bill that throws that away, throws away 20,000 jobs, and jeopardizes Iowa customers to the tune of over 130 million dollars a year. […]

Hogg’s amendment to remove the bad energy efficiency provisions from Senate File 2311 failed on a 22 to 28 vote. GOP Senator Rick Bertrand joined all 20 Democrats and independent Senator David Johnson to support it.

There were quite a few other amendments. Hogg offered another one designed to preserve a policy that has helped make “Iowa a renewable energy leader.” Breitbach argued that policy should be struck to conform with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that cited federal law. Hogg countered that the future of that federal law is in doubt, and our state should retain policies to promote renewable energy leadership. The amendment went down on a party-line 21 to 29 vote.

After Breitbach offered an amendment that passed on voice vote, Hogg was back up: “Now that Senator Breitbach has created this exemption system where some customers will be energy efficiency customers, and some customers will not be energy efficiency customers, that will create a whole series of new administrative costs for our utilities.” They will ask for recovery of costs associated with the “new bureaucratic scheme.”

This amendment will make sure those who participate in the efficiency programs “shall not be assessed any costs associated with construction, capital investment, energy, or any other costs that the board determines the utility could have reasonably avoided by energy efficiency or demand response investments not made by the utility.”

Breitbach responded that it would be “a bookkeeping nightmare” for a utility to determine what costs could be recovered and from whom.

Bolkcom explained that this amendment would make sure that customers who opt out of efficiency programs pay the costs associated with new energy generation.

Hogg said in his closing remarks, “Why would you say to people who are enrolled in the energy efficiency program that they have to pay the costs because a bunch of customers left the program? That’s wrong. That’s wrong.” The amendment failed on a 20 to 30 vote.

Breitbach offered the next amendment, saying, “This amendment will require a utility to expose the Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Program charges on a customer’s bill. It was revealed at the subcommittee of this bill that the reason why this restriction was put in the Iowa code was because utility customers were not happy with this charge on their bill and did not want it. That was back in 1987.”

Yes it was “revealed” in some grandstanding by the bill’s purported author, Chapman. That piece of theater can be seen in my previous post about this legislation, “The bill that was absolutely written by Jake Chapman, not MidAmerican Energy.”

Hogg proposed an amendment to Breitbach’s amendment, calling for utilities to “also represent estimated savings from customer participation in previous energy efficiency or demand response programs in customer billings as a separate item, in an amount approved by the board.” He explained (9:47:00) that only showing the cost to customers is “only showing half the equation.” The amendment would show people how much they’ve saved due to the energy efficiency programs, which “as we’ve discussed at length,” saves two dollars for every dollar invested and helped us avoid building two and a half 500 megawatt power plants just in the last nine years. So that’s a lot of savings, “and it would be unfair” to not show that savings on their bills. “Let’s show both halves.”

Opposing Hogg’s amendment, Breitbach argued,

I can appreciate that, wanting to show the customers that. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with that, except that this bill goes back to 1990.That’s 27 ears. I’ve been in business longer than that, but I know that I would not be able to go back through my bills and find out what every customer saved over the past 27 years. Just impossible.

This would be the double standard I was referring to earlier when Breitbach’s claim was “it is morally wrong not to itemize everything the consumer pays on utility bills.” Apparently, that excludes the benefits from the program. It’s also notable that the floor manager of such a large bill would not be aware that the data of the savings exists because of the same legislation he is railing against.

Breitbach repeated several times that Iowa consumers had contributed $2.6 billion to efficiency programs, never acknowledging that the math then proved $5.2 billion was returned. When a contribution returns $2 to every $1 contributed, that means that 2.6 billion dollars in consumers bills were saved. Senator Hogg pointed out the omission in his closing remarks.

Well, Senator Breitbach, if you had asked the Iowa Utilities Board, you would have known that the utilities board have been tracking all these energy efficiency programs for 28 years. Why? Because it’s been their legal duty to make sure that those programs are cost effective and in the public interest. […]

So you’re hiding something, Senator Breitbach, by not taking this amendment, and I would ask the body in the interests of transparency, let’s vote yes for this. Let’s make sure if we’re going to tell customers one half of the story, that we tell them, in Paul Harvey’s words, the rest of the story, which is the extraordinary savings that Iowa customers have received from 28 years of some of the best energy efficiency programs in our country.

Hogg’s amendment went down on a party-line 21 to 29 vote.

Breitbach’s amendment then passed by 40 to 10, with the following Democrats joining all 29 Republicans to support it: Chaz Allen, Tony Bisignano, Tod Bowman, Jeff Danielson, Rita Hart, Kevin Kinney, Jim Lykam, Liz Mathis, Matt McCoy, Amanda Ragan, and Rich Taylor.

Hogg’s next amendment would keep the bill from gutting rebates for consumers who buy energy efficient appliances.

Breitbach expressed concern: where was the money going to come from? He never once acknowledged the fact that it came from the savings generated by energy efficiency contributions. Once again, he was hiding something.

Chelgren spoke to convey that he wasn’t a fan of the rebates, since he has had such bad luck with appliances.

Hogg had noted in dialogue with Chelgren that the rebate programs are very popular with consumers. In closing remarks for this amendment, he added,

Well, thank you once again, the official spokesperson for the Senate Republicans. […] Here’s the deal, Senator Chelgren, whatever anecdote may have happened in your life, I think consumers across this state would be shocked to learn that these new appliances only last five years. I think they would be shocked to learn that because it’s simply not the case. Certainly not the case.

The amendment lost by 20 votes to 30.

Breitbach’s next amendment was important. Renewable energy advocates have pushed back hard against language from the bill that would “allow utilities to discriminate against solar customers and charge them separate and higher rates.”

Offering this amendment, Breitbach explained to senators,

This amendment strikes section 17 from the bill in regards to solar energy. It would have codified current practice in regard to solar projects, but there was enough concern that I decided I would pull this section out of the bill.

Senators approved that change by voice vote.

The last manager’s amendment would strike section 21 of Senate File 2311. Breitbach explained, “Section 21 dealt with emerging technology and we felt, or a lot of entities were interested in possibly exploring these in a private level, rather than having our utilities provide that, and so this will allow further discussion on that.”

That change also passed by voice vote.

That those last two amendments were needed point to how reckless and pro monopoly this bill is. I will leave it to those who dedicate themselves to environmental law to explain it, as Josh Mandelbaum did here. I’m here to witness the ridiculous arguments that have propelled this legislation.

Next, it was time for closing remarks on SF 2311. Democratic Senator McCoy noted, “Facts really didn’t matter tonight.” He quoted Governor Reynolds stating that Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft joined together in a coalition, coming to Iowa because of renewable energy. He read the long list of organizations and corporations that have registered against this bill. (You can read the lobbyist declarations here.) A few other choice quotes:

The reality is, this is an anti-consumer, job-killing monument to companies who run legal monopolies in the state of Iowa […]

We are shifting the cost of cheap energy now onto the consumers, and we’re going to pass a bill for Aliant Energy, whose bill they brought down here tonight, and this is their bill, […]

Make no mistake about it. This is, the monopolies coming in and they’re going to drink our milkshake. […] Hundreds of millions of dollars, annually. This is what this is going to cost us. […] Major data centers chose Iowa because of our green energy. […]

We’re throwing the Buick into reverse, and we’re headed back to the 1950s, which is where I think so many of you want to live. Well, I don’t want to live there. … I don’t think Iowans want to live in the 1950s. […] Why would we come here and vote against Iowa consumers? It makes no sense to me […]

When McCoy was nearly done, a fire alarm went off. He said, “They’re gonna shut our lights off.” This was a reference to last year’s collective bargaining bill, when Senate majority leaders turned off the lights and microphones and forced a vote after 28 hours of debate.

After the debate resumed, Hogg commented that the way the bill was amended, SF 2113 would cost Iowans around half a billion dollars annually, hurting companies and consumers.

Republican Senator Dan Zumbach lamented that there had been no discussion of getting natural gas out to rural areas. He jabbed at Hogg’s “rest of the story” quip. There were plenty of opportunities for Zumbach to address that during debate, but he waited till the end of debate (when there would be no opportunity for rebuttals). So did the bill’s self-styled author Chapman.

Bolkcom said it’s unbelievable that Republicans were able to write a bill that would not only raise utility bills by $500 million a year, but would kill thousands of jobs at the same time. “That is quite a feat.”

Chapman challenged Bolkcom and said he would “set the record straight.” He shared some alternative facts, but who cares. You can learn everything you need to know about him by going to his xenophobic and inciting Facebook page.

In his closing comments (after taking the bill away from Chapman so he didn’t blow it during the floor debate), Breitbach hammered on the supposed “hidden tax” of energy efficiency. He used his best indignant voice to point out that consumers paid into it to the tune of $240 million in 2016 alone. Naturally, there was no mention of the return on that investment: saving consumers $240 million dollars on their utility bills.

Yet again, we heard that since 1990, energy efficiency contributions had cost just shy of $2.6 billion.

But consumers have received $5.2 billion in returns, saving themselves $2.6 billion since 1990.

Because math.

To quote Senators Hogg, Zumbach, and Paul Harvey, now you know the rest of the story.

The vote on final passage was 27 to 23. Republicans Rick Bertrand and Charles Schneider joined all the Democrats and independent Johnson to oppose it.

Top image: Senator Michael Breitbach, floor manager of Senate File 2311, during Senate debate on March 6.

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  • Thank you for the reality check

    I remember a very different Iowa Statehouse. It was far from perfect, but the majority of members seemed to care, most of the time, about math, physics, and the future. Perhaps that memory is just a handicap now, and young activists are better off not having it dragging behind them.

  • Literally?

    Does this bill mean rates literally go up, or does it mean we will gain fewer efficiencies going forward such that rates eventually drift higher following missed opportunities

    • I think both

      More people opting out of the efficiency programs will mean fewer efficiencies going forward, with rates drifting higher. Other sections of the bill will make it easier for investor-owned utilities to directly raise consumer rates.