Branstad talks alternative energy

BY JON FRANK | MAY 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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Alternative energy could provide a path toward realizing two of Gov. Terry Branstad's main goals: bringing 200,000 jobs to Iowa over the next five years and increasing family income by 25 percent, the governor said.

"I think the state of Iowa has the potential to be the leader of renewable energy," he said.

And experts agree.

University of Iowa interim Provost P. Barry Butler, whose research focuses on wind energy, said the field can provide Iowans with jobs across numerous sectors, including manufacturing, engineering, business, and operations. Many of these jobs are high-paying, he noted.

"Wind energy has done a lot for the state," said Butler, who serves on the board of directors of the American Wind Energy Association. "We have a reputation for being a very proactive wind state."

But while Branstad applauded the state's investment in wind energy in an April 29 speech at the Iowa Renewable Energy Association Symposium in Iowa City, he also questioned one popular green initiative: the proposed Iowa City-Chicago rail line.

He said the train project would be fiscally irresponsible, questioning whether enough people would use the rail line to make the federal and state investment worth it.

Branstad, who has long questioned the project, said early in his term the state wouldn't supplement the promised $230 million in federal funds. Instead, he asked the state Department of Transportation how much each county should pay for the project. Johnson County committed to paying its $354,690 share.

But despite Branstad's most recent misgivings, local officials remained supportive of the train.

"I'm reasonably optimistic," said Iowa City Chamber of Commerce member Charles Funk. "I think it has a lot of support on this side of the state. Even the operating money that it will cost on an ongoing basis is a relatively small part of the budget."

Iowa City City Councilor Terry Dickens also said he was pleased with Chamber of Commerce research showing a large potential ridership.

"As a local entity, we're willing to put up the money, and the Quad Cities area is willing to put up the money, so I don't know where the hesitation is," he said.

Despite questions about the train, local residents will likely benefit from green projects for the state.

Fred Streicher, the director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering, said the institution's faculty can continue to provide research for the state.

"Engineers in general are the ones who help design such renewable energy systems," he said. "We graduate a lot of engineers."

And at the Iowa Wind Energy Association Wind Conference on April 27, officials from the North American Ductile Iron Co. announced a plan to build a manufacturing facility in Iowa City. The foundry will provide 175 jobs for residents.

Former Gov. Chet Culver and former Iowa football star Tim Dwight also visited the university to speak about the importance of investing in renewable energy on Sunday — for both economic and environmental incentives.

"We're starting to see [renewable energy] all over," said Dwight, who is in business development for Integrative Power. "In China, India, Europe, America. So you're starting to see a lot more investment go into this."

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