We can’t help but be uneasy about the interest Alliant Energy is showing in the city’s tentative steps toward using solar power to help shave some costs at city-owned facilities. Alliant’s history of rate increases and fundamental opposition to solar power gives us little reason to believe the interest is benign.
Alliant’s interest is known from the release of City Administrator Andy Morris’ weekly memo to council members. The city began releasing the memos to media earlier this year in a laudable bid for transparency. Most of the items on the memo are about what you’d expect: recaps of meetings and updates to ongoing discussions. Every now and then, though, there’s something that gives a real insight into the city’s activities.
Or, in this case, Alliant’s.
The entry on the solar project is almost a throwaway item. Morris said week he would: “Attend a meting at the Alliant Energy to discuss electrical plans. As an aside, David Vollmar from Alliant has been asking me about the solar panel feasibility study. I am not really sure of his angle and whether solar is something his company is pursuing. I’ll forward him the power point from the Council meeting.”
Our concern is that Alliant’s interest in solar has, to this point, been almost entirely negative. It has pushed for legislation that would gut the state’s energy efficiency programs. While such self interest isn’t illegal, it was a blatant attempt at finding ways to ensure consumers paid more by continuing to use outdated, inefficient appliances.
Even as it did so, Alliant spoke out of the other side of its mouth, praising its own efforts to help Iowans save money.
This year Alliant pushed new legislation that would raise costs for those who use solar power, making it a less attractive option for those looking for ways to save on their energy bills. It was a transparent attempt to hamstring solar power in favor of Alliant.
Those actions come on top of Alliant’s near-constant efforts to raise rates. The latest bid for a 25 percent increase verges on an abuse of the company’s monopoly over customers in its territories. The justifications from Alliant fall short, leaving customers to rightly conclude the company is far more interested in boosting its bottom line than whether Iowans can pay their bills.
There’s a word for all this: Greed. This is a greed that goes beyond the desire for a healthy bottom line supported by profitable business practices. It is the greed of an unreformed Ebeneezer Scrooge.
In the face of that greed, it is only possible to view Alliant’s interest in the city’s actions skeptically. Whatever Alliant plans, it is unlikely to be good for the city and for the taxpayers of Ottumwa.
The city’s efforts thus far are a matter of public record, and Alliant is entirely within its rights to seek additional information. But it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if the next step Alliant takes is aimed at blocking municipal use of solar power.
The resolution passed by council members blasting Alliant’s proposed rate hike was right on the money. While we do not conclude that Alliant’s request for information is a specific response to that resolution, neither can we conclude Alliant is acting in good faith. With a track record like the one the company has, the city would be wise to be cautious.