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United States

Investment plan to reduce imports

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Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is proposing to reverse the state's dependence on energy imports beginning with targeted investments in renewable resources. Iowa has an energy trade imbalance problem -- it imports $4 billion in energy -- and the governor wants that changed. He has proposed a plan for the state to invest $50 million to spur renewable energy growth in a state rich in clean power resources.

Although utilities fought hard against Iowa's 1980s Alternative Energy Production Law (Windpower Monthly, December 1998), today Iowa is third in the nation in installed wind capacity with 423 MW, most of it along Buffalo Ridge in the state's northern reaches. It is also a farm state that is the top producer of corn, soybeans and hogs among US states with a high potential to produce biomass and biofuels. Governor Vilsack, a Democrat, wants to strengthen what Iowa is already good at, says Matthew Paul from the governor's office. "He wants to focus on Iowa's best assets and strengthen the rural economy by developing niche markets," Paul says.

The plan proposes to spread the $50 million across several sectors. Among those are $10 million for school districts to use wind technology, $10 million to develop transmission and distribution systems that would allow for more wind development and $10 million in loans and grants to spur wind investments.

Diane Munns, chair of the Iowa Utilities Board, worked with Vilsack to promote the plan among citizens. She says the transmission upgrade proposal is in the conceptual stage and that the larger question in that arena is how the state can make such an investment in the privately held grid, an issue that may require action by the state legislature. "The proposal acknowledges that those issues are there and it proposes money to get it done," she says. "The quality of the wind resource is very good, but the transmission issues are big."

She thinks the $10 million to spur wind development would likely be used for distributed generation projects, such as the wind turbines already located at the Akron-Westfield School District and the Forest City High School in Iowa or for farm co-operatives. Although not determined yet, she thinks the grants could best be distributed by the already existing Iowa Energy Center, a non-profit agency funded by utility ratepayers that has long supported wind development.

"From what we can see, wind generation is good all around," Munns says.

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