Rants misses the point of the Power Fund

State Representative Chris Rants promised to run his gubernatorial campaign on “Diet Coke and Casey’s pizza and ethanol,” but attacks on Governor Chet Culver are the real fuel for his political ambitions. He’s been bashing Culver’s economic policies all summer. His latest target is the Power Fund, which Rants would ax to help balance the state budget.

Culver and his office have repeatedly cited a study by the Green Jobs Initiative Committee, which estimated that Iowa has more than 8,700 “green jobs,” a substantial increase in the past few years. Culver has credited the Power Fund with helping create thousands of jobs, while Rants says Culver is misleading Iowans because fewer than 100 jobs can be directly attributed to Power Fund grants.

If I were Culver, I would seize the chance to debate renewable energy with Republicans.  

When Rants was speaker of the Iowa House, Republicans resisted most efforts to increase renewable energy generated in this state. They apparently thought it better to continue generating most of our electricity from coal, which has to be imported from other states and creates harmful air pollution and toxic waste.

Thanks in part to Rants’ shortsighted leadership, Iowa didn’t adopt measures that could have promoted renewable energy during the first half of this decade. Iowa was falling behind some neighboring states in wind energy production in 2007. However, we moved into second place in wind power generating capacity last year. Christina Davidson reported on the growth of wind power in Iowa for the Atlantic. She noted, “According to the Iowa Utilities Board, in 2006 wind power represented 5 percent of the energy produced in the state, but now has reached 15 to 17 percent.” Davidson’s piece on how wind energy has stimulated the local economy in Walnut, Iowa is also worth reading.  

The Culver administration doesn’t deserve all the credit for the growth of wind power in Iowa, but the governor has increased state funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. He has also advocated federal policies that would boost clean energy production in Iowa.

While Culver can be proud of his record on renewable energy, he should not let Rants or other Republicans define the Power Fund’s value solely in terms of jobs created. That would be like judging the expansion of early childhood education in Iowa only by how many pre-school teachers have been hired. The Power Fund is more than a jobs program:

The Power Fund was created to be a tool for [the Office of Energy Independence], the Power Fund Board, and the Due Diligence Committee to use to promote the goals of Iowa energy independence. Power Fund money is appropriated to the office to be used in providing financial assistance to entities conducting business, research, or programs in Iowa:

   (1) To accelerate research and development, knowledge transfer, technology innovation, and improve the economic competitiveness of efforts.

   (2) To increase the demand for and educate the public about technologies and approaches.

Clearly not every “green job” in Iowa is a direct result of the Power Fund, and job creation is not the central goal of every project approved for a Power Fund grant. Still, many of these projects offer huge collateral benefits to Iowa communities and our environment. (We could be doing even more on this front by implementing some of the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council’s recommendations, but that’s a topic for another post.)

I believe most Iowans would support investing in our potential to be a leader in renewable energy, especially if they hear about the concrete benefits for towns like Walnut.

Rants is complaining about nearly $50 million spent by the Power Fund when we’ve spent several times that amount on the Iowa Values Fund, which was glorified corporate welfare.

I mostly agree with Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Norm Sterzenbach’s response to Rants:

The fact that matters most is Chris Rants is against Iowa being a leader in the renewable energy industry, which is not surprising since he has consistently voted against the Power Fund and efforts to attract companies to Iowa from around the world and support green collar jobs. […] At a time when we need to strengthen our economy, the Democrats are clearly leading the way with initiatives on several fronts, including renewable energy, while the Republicans seem to simply sit around and complain.”

I say that I mostly agree because the Republicans aren’t only sitting around and complaining. They are also resurrecting Herbert Hoover’s brilliant plan to sharply cut government spending during a recession.

Even though I see no realistic path for Rants to win the Republican nomination for governor, his attacks should not go unchallenged, especially since he did so little to promote renewable energy when he held a position of power.

  • OEI should also be given credit

    for giving realistic numbers on job creation.  Knowing how R’s often have difficulty with facts and figures, I doubt they would be giving such honest figures on any initiative they created.  Plus, R&D and early commercialization (Power Fund’s focus areas) are not big employment engines in the short term.  The fruits are likely to come many years down the line.  Significant energy R&D investments also make Iowa a more attractive place for other energy companies to locate in – an effect that can’t really be measured.

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