The Decorah City Council voted 5-2 Monday night to draft a complaint regarding Alliant Energy.

The Council is expected to review the complaint after it has been prepared and before it’s filed with the Iowa Utilities Board and Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate.

Council members Kirk Johnson and Randy Schissel voted against the motion.

The Council met in closed session for about two hours Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issue. The discussion continued in open session at Monday night’s special meeting. The exact details of the complaint were not announced.

Council member Steve Luse proposed filing a complaint during a Council work session last month. Because the Council is at an impasse with Alliant on reaching a franchise agreement, he said Alliant is “bullying” the city by saying it will charge the city $1.5 million to move its power lines in conjunction with the Locust Road project. He said Alliant is “discriminating” against Decorah.

The city and Alliant have been working on a 15-year franchise agreement. The Council would like to be able to terminate the agreement if the IUB ruled another utility provider, including a Decorah municipal electric utility, could provide electric service to the city. Alliant is proposing cancellation “windows” of 5, 7 and 12 years during a new franchise agreement, but some Council members would like the ability to cancel the franchise after two years. In 2018, a referendum to establish a municipal electric utility in Decorah failed by three votes. Citizens could hold another referendum on whether to establish a municipal electric utility as early as 2022.

During Monday night’s meeting, the Council also scheduled public hearings for 5:45 Monday, June 1, on a franchise agreement with Alliant, and on a franchise fee.

No franchise
The city’s franchise agreement with Alliant expired in 2018, but the utility is continuing to provide the city’s electricity.

Under the franchise agreement, there is typically a provision that provides for the utility provider to relocate infrastructure at the request of the municipality at no cost to the municipality.

The city’s previous franchise agreement did not have such language, but the agreement was signed in 1993 under Government Facilities Relocation (GFR) rider tariff, that allowed for the free relocation of infrastructure, according to City Manager Chad Bird.

The GRF tariff changed in 2009, in the middle of Decorah’s previous franchise agreement, but Alliant continued the practice of not charging for relocations from 2009 until 2018 when the franchise expired. After that time, the company began charging the city for the relocation of infrastructure.

Without a new franchise agreement, Alliant is asserting it can charge the city to relocate infrastructure, Bird said. The company does not charge for utility relocation when it has a franchise agreement in place that includes the free relocation of power lines.