Wendell Johnson demanded Terry Kouba look at him.
“It’s the least you can do,” Johnson told the president of Interstate Power and Light Company at a public hearing Thursday about the company’s proposed base rate increase in 2020.
The frustration underlying Johnson’s demand was mirrored in the faces and remarks of the approximately 100 people at the Park Inn, where the Iowa Utilities Board was taking feedback on the rate jump.
Slightly less than half – $8/month for a $116/month bill – of the projected total increase in electric bills went into effect on April 1. Thursday’s hearing was addressing the next $12/month “interim” increase, set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Alliant officials said they expect no increase in gas bills, due to other savings off-setting proposed base rate increases also coming on Jan. 1.
What is different about this increase is that Alliant and Interstate Power and Light Company (Alliant’s energy company in Iowa) are asking for it based on projected cost increases, rather than costs that have already had an impact. Alliant’s ability to ask for the increase on projected costs comes from a law passed by the state Legislature, and which provides a test case for the three-member Iowa Utilities Board, according to chair Geri Huser.
Kouba emphasized the utility’s commitment to consistent, cost-effective service by reminding the room that Alliant was on hand 24-7 trying to keep the lights on during the area’s most recent storm, and by talking about the utility’s investment in wind energy, which he said will bring cleaner, cheaper energy to Iowa.
It is that investment that, in part, drives the utility’s request for the rate increases.
But the room wasn’t having any of it. Other than a comment by an area chamber of commerce representative who pointed out Alliant’s importance in the community, and a member of a union that helps build wind turbines who said the union and Alliant worked well together, most of the rest of the remarks revealed varying degrees of anger and frustration.
A number of the comments came from local businesses, including Golden Grain Energy, a Mason City-based company that produces ethanol from local corn.
Golden Grain’s energy costs are a necessary and constant component of its business, said Chief Operating Officer Chad Kuhlers. It anticipates an increase of energy expenses of $300,000 annually from 2018 and more than a half-million dollars annually since 2017.
“This represents a significant loss in our ability to fund new investment in the site and increases our risk of reducing employment, since there are no other significant variable costs for us to cut,” said CFO Christy Marchand.
Another segment of the audience was made up of people who questioned the Iowa Utilities Board’s motive in scheduling a public hearing in the morning.
“As you can see, most of the people here are older and retired,” said Peggy Davis. “Working people can’t afford to take the time off to be here.”
Davis said she has had to cut corners so that she could afford to pay her utility bills.
“Why can’t Alliant cut corners, too?,” she asked.
And then there were those whose questions were of a more philosophical nature.
“Do you sleep at night?,” one man asked.
The Iowa Utilities Board has 10 months to issue a final decision.
How to comment
If you didn’t make Thursday’s meeting, there is still time to comment.