Iowa’s 84th General Assembly has adjourned, so it’s time to look at what Iowa’s electric cooperatives have accomplished over the last two legislative sessions. Thanks to all ECI REC members, employees, and Board members, as well as those from other cooperatives, for their hard work in bringing important issues to the legislature’s attention.
State Historic Preservation Office
Electric cooperatives passed legislation and formulated rules that direct the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to be less stringent and act in a more timely manner when approving the location of distribution system poles. The process of working through this issue began more than three years ago, and its resolution would not have been possible without cooperative employees' and directors' dedication to finding a solution and recognition that, at times, legislative fixes are a multi-year endeavor. Just this week cooperatives with legislators on the Administrative Rules Review Committee were asked to contact their committee members urging them to support the Department of Cultural Affairs’ proposed SHPO rules. The rules were unanimously passed by the committee.
At a time when other groups in and out of Iowa where heavily engaged in raising opposition to nuclear generating facilities and news reports of Japan’s nuclear disaster and the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl were at the forefront of legislators’ minds, your communication with legislators about the need for 24/7 baseload electricity in Iowa resulted in nuclear legislation being passed by the House. Having a bill passed by one chamber at this time was an accomplishment. Legislators and other groups at the capitol took notice of your grassroots efforts.
Copper Theft and Utility Notice of Alternative Energy System Installation
Cooperative efforts to reduce copper theft through legislation also began last year and concluded this session. Not satisfied with the extent of the original legislation passed, electric cooperatives made another effort in 2012 to strengthen the legislation and presented the case to legislators of how it would impact member-consumers back home. The successful result was that copper theft legislation was passed by both chambers and signed by the governor at a bill signing ceremony on April 19. In addition, cooperative advocates raised awareness for, and gained the support of, the need for legislation that requires members installing renewable energy systems to provide notice prior to installation. Legislation was signed by the governor to require this notice.
This year the Cooperative's top legislative priority was the establishment of science-based standards for addressing stray voltage issues in a timely manner. We argued that such a framework would aid consumers and utilities to ensure the safe delivery of electricity, avoid unnecessary litigation, and maintain good cooperative-consumer relationships.
We began our research and outreach efforts on the proposed legislation in the summer and fall of 2011. We built coalitions of interest group supporters such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Iowa Federation of Labor, Alliant Energy, the Iowa Utility Association, ITC Midwest, the municipal utilities, and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. In anticipation of possible concerns we reached out to local Farm Bureau organizations to get their early input.
We secured bill sponsors in both chambers. Senator Sodders (D-Marshalltown) requested an individually sponsored bill draft and Representative Soderberg (R-Le Mars), as chair of House Commerce Committee, requested a committee study bill.
After a great effort on your part to inform your legislators about stray voltage, the issue in pre-session meetings, local legislative forums and by calls and emails during the session, bills passed out of their committees of origin and proceeded to the calendar for debate. On REC Day on the Hill this year, the Senate took-up and passed SF 2286 on a vote of 35-14. An amendment that we opposed was successfully defeated. Throughout the process we worked in good faith to address the concerns of all the stakeholders involved. Despite our best efforts, Farm Bureau and the Cattleman's Association continued to oppose the bill in all of its forms. We had the additional challenge of opposition to the bill from both ends of the political spectrum; the Farm Bureau and the Trial Lawyers Association.
With end of the 2012 session, even though we had overwhelming support of both parties in the House, House leadership was unwilling to bring the bill up for debate.
This is not the result we had hoped for and worked towards. However, it does allow us to, in legislative vernacular, live to fight another day. It is always more difficult to pass legislation than it is to defeat legislation. We have additional options to pursue. Following the legislative session, the Government Relations Committee will meet and review our efforts and plan the next step.
There are times at the state capitol when one is right on the issues and right on the strategy and make significant progress, yet still does not achieve ultimate success within the process. Despite attempting to get the bill passed throughout the final days of the session, that was the case with this year’s stray voltage legislation.
Due to this reality, it is incumbent upon us to take the following actions: one, we must make it a point to personally thank all those who stood with the electric cooperatives on this important issue; and two, we must begin planning on how we will build off the progress we were able to make this session to ensure we reach our goal in the new General Assembly in 2013.
Caption: ECI REC's Greg Pavelka (third from left) at REC Day on the Hill.