APNewsBreak: Iowa nixes solar grant after lobbying

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm •  Published: July 17, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad's administration surrendered a $1 million grant designed to make Iowa a nationwide leader in solar energy after electric utilities lobbied for major changes, emails show.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority and the U.S. Department of Energy terminated the grant after months of negotiations over what work would be required to meet its goal of helping cut costs and regulations to speed solar adoption.

The sticking point came when Iowa officials amended an original proposal and insisted the grant not be used to evaluate solar energy policies — a change that utility lobbyists sought, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press under the public records law.

"In order to be completely responsible to potential solar customers, the (proposal) should also reference the 'limitations' of solar whenever it speaks of the benefits," Iowa Utility Association president Mark Douglas wrote to IEDA general counsel Rita Grimm in January when suggesting changes that were incorporated into a revised plan sent the next day to the federal agency. Douglas' association includes Iowa's dominant utilities, MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy.

Department of Energy official Joshua Huneycutt criticized the changes, saying all other grant recipients were investigating solar policies because that's "an integral part of the work."

"Many of the edits I've encountered seem to suggest a significant scaling back of the ambition of the award and a generally adverse/suspicious viewpoint towards solar, which is not acceptable in the context of an award made explicitly to promote solar energy adoption," he wrote Jan. 30.

IEDA Director Debi Durham, a Branstad appointee, approved the decision to negotiate the grant's termination April 8 after a stalemate developed, emails show. The termination wasn't publicly announced.

The next day, Branstad told advocates gathered at the Capitol for Solar Day that Iowa would lead the way on solar power as it has on wind "by working together." He didn't mention the grant, but indicated he supported a plan to expand solar tax credits, which he signed in May.

Branstad, who had sent a letter last year lobbying for the grant, supported its cancellation after the state couldn't agree with the federal agency, spokesman Jimmy Centers said. He said IEDA's changes were meant to "prevent duplication of efforts."

The changes sought by Iowa "deviated beyond the original intent of the award," a Department of Energy spokesperson said.