Des Moines City Council approves franchise agreement extensions with MidAmerican Energy

Philip Joens
Des Moines Register

The Des Moines City Council extended electric and natural gas franchise agreements with MidAmerican Energy on Monday after negotiating a side agreement that will allow it to track its use of renewable energy.

The city also added a provision for developing an implementation plan for its clean energy goals. The agreement would allow it amend the 13-year electric and gas agreements, if necessary, after five years.

That falls short of the request by environmentalists and some residents that the council add provisions allowing it to consider ending the agreements in three years, or again in five and eight years, if MidAmerican fails to help it achieve a goal of using 100% clean energy by 2035. 

Previously:Des Moines City Council expected to approve MidAmerican Energy franchise agreement Monday

A MidAmerican Energy wind turbine near Macksburg.

City Manager Scott Sanders declined to comment on what form an amendment to the agreement could take.

"Moving forward it is all about the side agreement, which lays out how we develop a plan together to accomplish city goals," said city spokesperson Al Setka.

MidAmerican would have been able to continue to operate in Des Moines without the agreements, but the city would have lost $12 million a year in franchise fees.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the agreements, which give Des Moines-based MidAmerican the right to use public rights-of-way to provide the city with electric and natural gas service. 

Ward 1 council member Indira Sheumaker voted against the agreements. Ward 4 council member Joe Gatto did not attend the meeting. Ward 3 council member Josh Mandelbaum recused himself from the vote because he is a lawyer for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a member of Clean Up MidAm, a group focused on retiring MidAmerican's coal-fired power plants by 2030. 

The city's current franchise agreement, signed in 2012, expires June 15. 

By 2030, Des Moines wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emission from 2010 levels by 45%. It wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The side agreement approved Monday states the joint intent of the city and utility to hit those goals. Currently, the city does not know how much of its electricity comes from renewable sources, but the side agreement would allow it to track that information. 

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Des Moines also intends to accelerate its use of energy-efficiency and smart-grid technologies.

The city will develop a clean-energy implementation plan that outlines processes, responsibilities, costs and ways to achieve its goals. The tentative deadline for the plan is Dec. 30, according to the side agreement. 

Other cities work with MidAmerican, but this agreement is one of a kind, said Sanders, the city manager. 

"This is a unique document that you would only find with the city of Des Moines," he said.

At-large council member Connie Boesen said she knew some residents wanted "much more." 

"I agree that this is an agreement that moves us much further," Boesen said. "And I think shows our commitment that we will continue to pursue avenues to make sure that we hit our goals."

MidAmerican in 2021 generated almost 88% of the electricity used by its Iowa customers from renewable sources. The utility has spent $14 billion on wind energy projects since 2004 and plans to spend $3.9 billion more on solar and wind energy projects

Philip Joens covers public safety, city government and RAGBRAI for the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-443-3347 at or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.