Lessons Learned with Des Moines Franchise Agreement

by | May 25, 2022 | Featured, Instagram, News

Des Moines’ city hall

By Sonita van der Leeuw

In January 2021, Des Moines was recognized as a climate leader when the Des Moines City Council passed a resolution committing to a community-wide 24/7 carbon-free electricity goal by 2035. By doing this, they were also committing to the policies and incentives necessary to achieve this goal. One critical policy that affects the success of this resolution is the renewal of the agreement with MidAmerican Energy to use city right-of-way to provide electrical service, called a franchise agreement.  

Over the last several months, I have had the exciting, frustrating, and intriguing opportunity to learn about the impact of franchise agreements in different cities, along with right here in Des Moines, Iowa as the city’s franchise agreement renewal expires on June 15, 2022. I have been able to see so many different individuals and stakeholders come together surrounding this renewal negotiation process. From attending webinars educating folks on what a franchise agreement is, to seeing individuals write to their city council members, and reading about community leaders’ perspectives in articles surrounding the agreement. Then, finally, being able to see it all unfold as the Des Moines City Council held three required readings of the agreement starting at the beginning of May. 

IEC, our allies including Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, and the City of Des Moines originally asked MidAmerican to agree to a three-year agreement, while MidAmerican originally proposed a 25-year agreement. The City and MidAmerican ultimately settled on a 13-year agreement. This length of time meant that the city would be locked into a partnership with MidAmerican until 2035, regardless of how well or poorly MidAmerican operates in the coming years. Because of this, IEC and our allies asked the City to go back into negotiations with MidAmerican to incorporate language in the agreement that would allow Des Moines to terminate three or eight years into the agreement if MidAmerican was not meeting the city’s needs. The agreement ultimately passed after three readings with three votes of 5–1 in favor of the 13-year agreement without termination clauses.

A side agreement or cooperation between the city and MidAmerican was proposed and approved at Monday night’s council meeting along with the franchise agreement. The side agreement includes promoting electric vehicle infrastructure, clean energy investments, energy efficiency programs, and annual reports between the city and MidAmerican. Even though this agreement is non-binding, it is strong and puts into place ways and opportunities to hold MidAmerican and the city accountable and on the same page in reaching the city’s climate goals.

Monday, May 9th meeting at City Hall

Reflecting on Des Moines’ franchise agreement negotiation process, it has been frustrating and at times can leave you wondering what these choices mean for the future of Des Moines. However, there was a positive takeaway to this entire process that I hope people do not forget ⁠— on Monday, May 9th, over fifty Des Moines residents showed up to the city council’s first reading of the franchise renewal and over twenty residents spoke up to oppose the 13-year franchise agreement with no termination clauses. On top of this, different community leaders, organizations, and businesses have spoken up in support for the city and MidAmerican to be held accountable. These actions clearly show that the residents of Des Moines have a deep commitment to climate action, and they should be proud of their persistent advocacy to protect their community and future residents in a world facing climate change.

So, what exactly is next? Every city in Iowa being served by an investor-owned utility has a franchise agreement, which means every city has an opportunity to push for collaboration with their utility as they try to reach their climate goals. In the next few years, surrounding suburbs of Des Moines and other cities in Iowa will be going through these same negotiations as their agreements are approaching expiration and can look at the lessons learned from Des Moines as they begin to think about how they want to approach their renewals. 

Sonita van der Leeuw is a Clean Energy Field Organizer for the Iowa Environmental Council  

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