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Report Identifies Gaps in Iowa's Energy Efficiency Programs

A report on energy efficiency programs in Iowa says both the federal Weatherization Assistance Program and utility-funded programs are inadequately funded and that utility programs suffer from inadequate regulation and lack of minimum standards.

The Iowa Policy Project earlier this month released Making Residential Energy Efficiency Accessible to Low-Income Iowans. It found that the state's Weatherization Assistance Program weatherizes just over 2,000 homes each year, although that number will increase to about 7,000 more homes through 2012 due to federal stimulus funds. However, as of 2009, 165,206 Iowa homes were eligible for weatherization, showing an immense unmet need.

Utility-run energy-efficiency plans don't adequately reach a large share of low-income households, the report said, because consumer-owned utilities such as municipal power companies and rural electric cooperatives aren't required to target their programs to the low income or to have their energy efficiency plans reviewed by the state regulatory agency, as the three investor-owned utilities are. According to the report, one in five low-income households in Iowa does not have an investor-owned utility as its primary vendor and, therefore, does not have access to the regulated energy efficiency programs that the IOUs must provide.

The report also noted that federal tax credits for energy efficiency measures created through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act encourage energy efficient improvements, but they don't benefit low-income taxpayers who pay little or no federal income tax.

Among other things, the report recommends that future tax credits that encourage energy efficiency should be structured so low-income Iowans can take advantage of them. This would mean making the credit refundable so low-income Iowans would be able to claim the benefits even if they don't pay income taxes.

Additionally, Iowa should require all utilities, including consumer-owned utilities, to participate in state regulated energy efficiency plans that mandate the development of programs targeted toward the low income. Such programs could be improved by the creation of minimum standards for energy efficiency plans, the report said, adding that current energy efficiency programs create a patchwork of inconsistent benefits. Minimum standards would mean that all customers, regardless of service area, could access a comprehensive, free energy audit and minimum rebate levels for lighting, appliance, and insulation improvements.

Source: Iowa Policy Project