Luther prepares for energy referendum

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Luther prepares for energy referendum

Conner Kujak (‘21) responds to a survey as Susie Wold (‘20) tables for voter registration.

Conner Kujak (‘21) responds to a survey as Susie Wold (‘20) tables for voter registration.

Katrina Meyer (‘19) | Chips

Conner Kujak (‘21) responds to a survey as Susie Wold (‘20) tables for voter registration.

Katrina Meyer (‘19) | Chips

Katrina Meyer (‘19) | Chips

Conner Kujak (‘21) responds to a survey as Susie Wold (‘20) tables for voter registration.

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Luther Students for Municipalization held an information session on Thursday, April 12 to answer student questions on the upcoming power referendum vote. The session, led by Forrest Stewart (‘19), covered potential student concerns and explained what the referendum would mean for Luther.

Stewart argued that the move to municipal energy is more common than people might think. He detailed the potential changes that could occur in Decorah, noting that a “yes” vote would shift the leadership of  municipal energy to a board of directors in Decorah and would not rely on investors, which could potentially lower rates.

Stewart also said that the move to a municipal energy utility would offer local control over electric priorities. Decorah Power argues that the shift could potentially be $5 million cheaper for the community.

The vote, which takes place on May 1, is a vote to continue the discussion about municipalized energy for Decorah.

Geoffrey Dyck (‘18) originally got involved in the issue by interning with Decorah Power.

“If you vote ‘yes’ on May 1, you will be voting to authorize city council to potentially pursue a municipal electric utility,” Dyck said. “You are not saying, ‘We want a municipal electricity now. It just continues the conversation. . . It’s a conversation worth continuing in my opinion.”

The vote comes when Decorah’s 25-year contract with Alliant energy expires. For Dyck, the vote is pressing because if the city votes “yes”, Decorah does not have to sign another 25 year franchise agreement with Alliant. Alliant, Decorah’s current energy provider, is an investor owned utility, and relies on investors to sustain business which, according to Stewart, can lead to rate increases in times where energy use remains stagnant.

Piper Wood (‘21) | Chips
Sarah Wyatt (’20) speaks at the information session.

The referendum vote is a product of an energy feasibility study conducted by Decorah Power, and a signature drive from earlier this year to gauge community interest about a referendum vote.

“Decorah Power simply asked the question: will a municipal electric utility be feasible in Decorah,” Dyck said. “We asked them to do this knowing full well that the results could come back negative, but it came back more positive than even we expected.”

The information session covered the differences between Alliant energy, and a municipal energy utility, including how the change would affect students on campus. Currently, Luther students pay around $500 each to Alliant through tuition, and Dyck feels that maintaining Luther’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2030 becomes a more difficult task when students vote “no”.

“Even if you are pro-Alliant, there are a lot of reasons to vote yes on this,” Dyck said. “If you vote yes, you are putting city council in the best possible position to negotiate a really good franchise agreement with Alliant… Voting yes for Luther students gives us the possibility of not staying with the same old same old.”

In the information session, Stewart (‘18) mentioned that because voting “yes” will only be a vote to continue the conversation about the potential for an electric utility, the timeline for the move to municipal electricity could take years, and may not affect current students directly. Still, students like Elise Carlson (‘21) feel it is important to be proactive to speak up for future Luther students.

“I think that it is important to be invested in the community that you are in,” Carlson said. “The choice to come to Luther was a choice to be invested in the community of Decorah, and my goal in voting is to create a better space for the people who are coming here.”

For Sarah Wyatt (‘20), the Nextgen America Fellow for Luther College, the easiest way for students to get involved in the issue is to vote.

“Nextgen America is working to change a lot of things in Iowa and in the United States as a whole and one of our main goals is working toward renewable energy sources,” Wyatt said. “Luther as an institution is always here, and we as Luther students need to be the voice for future Luther students, and voting is the easiest way to do that.”

Because all Luther students are residents of Decorah, Iowa, they are allowed to change their voter registration and vote within the state of Iowa. The actual vote will take place on May 1st, but students must mail in their voter registration to be a registered Iowa voter by Friday, April 20th. Both Decorah Power, and Nextgen America are tabling outside of the cafeteria to register voters.

Early voting will take place throughout the month of April, and there will be a shuttle for early voting happening on Friday, April 20th. Otherwise, registered Decorah voters can vote early by going to the courthouse from 8am-4pm Monday through Friday.

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