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UPDATED: Letter to the Editor: "Move Out, Middleman!"

Posted: Wed, Apr 11, 2018 11:22 AM

(The following Letter to the Editor has been submitted by Warren McKenna, who serves on the Executive Board of the Resale Power Group of Iowa, is a founding Board member of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, and works as the CEO/General Manager of Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona, Iowa.):

Decorah electric municipalization should be a 'yes' vote! I have had the pleasure of visiting Decorah to discuss a community vision to purchase and control their electric delivery system. It is a bold move to take on a large monopoly investor owned utility (IOU). With 40-years of experience in the electric utility industry I can tell you that the Municipal Utility Feasibility Study from Decorah Power is to the point and very well done.
 
Over the past ten years there has been a transformation or paradigm-shift happening to the old outside-in energy market model. This transformation is mostly technology driven, it is creating opportunities for a more competitive and local inside-out energy market where competition drives decisions, it is the future, and it cannot be stopped.

Yes, many of us remember moving from the dial telephone to the new smart phone. My wife just purchased her smart phone last week (finally). This was only possible because of competition forced on this once monopoly-based industry. This competitive model has also started to unfold in the generation and transmission of electricity, but few are aware because the end customer still must buy from a middle-man monopoly. This middle-man monopoly, in the case of Decorah, is a very large out-of-state investor-owned utility that is share-holder driven. To this IOU the electric user is nothing more than an electric meter with a number. Yes, Decorah can eliminate this middle-man and buy direct.

From the recent Decorah Power report (https://decorahpower.org/feasibility-study/), we know what the annual kilo-watt-hour (kwh) usage is and what it will cost to buy the existing electric system. Every penny per kwh paid will cost Decorah customers $1,260,000 annually in lost community investment; Decorah businesses and residences are currently sending 13 times this amount out of town. This study shows that from a financial standpoint this vote is a definite 'yes' to municipalize the electric system and keep the millions of dollars within the community.

Local ownership improves overall system performance while building on sustainability by shifting energy sources to locally generated renewable energy. Locally the customer will have more choice in promoting and supporting energy efficiency and conservation, all while improving reliability. There are many municipal utilities around Iowa like Bloomfield, Pella, Tipton, Cedar Falls and more that are already successfully operating and maintaining their own electric distribution system.
 
Don't let the current investor-owned utility try to scare everyone with the reliability argument. Just a couple weekends ago there was a 10+ hour outage in Wellman that was a major inconvenience. It wasn't the first and probably not the last outage of this magnitude for this town. If there was customer choice in the distribution of electricity this IOU would not be serving this community. This IOU is the same one that serves Decorah.  (Alliant Energy spokesperson Mike Wagner responds: "The outage that impacted Wellman was caused by a downed transmission line managed by ITC. Heavy snow, high winds and ice affected restoration efforts. It is incorrect to suggest that a municipal electric company would have provided better service to customers. The same ITC transmission lines would serve the community regardless of the power provider.")

I manage one of the smallest and oldest rural electric cooperatives in the nation. Our customer-owned utility has set a new standard with a high-performance community driven inside-out model. We have more solar watts per customer than any utility in the nation. Some days we're generating 100 percent of our energy locally, and it's right here in Iowa.

It is possible for Decorah to move out the current middle-man, and with a shared energy vision, own its energy future make this move by voting 'yes.'"