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DECORAH — By four votes, Decorah residents rejected a referendum to authorize the city to establish a municipal electric utility, but the city’s current electrical provider, Alliant Energy, is not claiming victory.

Fifty-one percent of Decorah’s registered voters turned out for Tuesday’s special election — a large turnout for a city election, according to Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines. A total of 1,384 residents cast ballots against the establishment of a utility while 1,380 voted in favor.

The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors will canvass election results at noon Monday. A recount can be called if a petition signed by 28 residents — 1 percent of the total votes cast in Tuesday’s election — is filed by May 10, Steines said.

The auditor also said there are 15 outstanding absentee ballots. To be counted, they must have been postmarked by April 30 and received before the supervisors’ canvass, Steines said.

“We want to thank our customers for their ongoing support and the entire community for the healthy debate that accompanied this process,” Alliant Energy spokesperson Mike Wagner said after the election results were posted.

“With a four-vote margin and with 15 potential votes still outstanding, we will let the process play out. We look forward to the final results. We look forward to working with the City Council and community leaders to chart a path that assures our customers’ needs are met,” Wagner said.

Regardless the final outcome, Decorah Power Board Treasurer Andy Johnson said he’s grateful for the community’s support.

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“We’re tremendously thankful to the literally hundreds of volunteers that pitched in, motivated by love of community health and community prosperity,” Johnson said.

“This has always been about people and community, and Decorah and Decorahans still have options to pursue a locally owned clean energy future.”

Feasibility studies

Decorah Power and Alliant Energy both had feasibility studies conducted of what it would cost to establish a utility for Decorah.

Decorah Power’s study estimated it would cost about $7.6 million to acquire Alliant’s infrastructure, while Alliant’s study estimated it would cost about $51 million.

Decorah Power’s feasibility study concluded a municipal utility could provide electricity to the city for about $5 million less a year than Alliant.

If the “no” vote stands, the Decorah City Council will need to begin to form a plan to negotiate a renewed franchise agreement with Alliant Energy, said City Manager Chad Bird.

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