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Hatch faults Branstad for nixing $1M solar grant

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 21, 2014 at 4:16 pm •  Published: July 21, 2014

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch criticized Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday for giving up a $1 million solar energy grant, saying the governor is letting powerful utility companies write his energy policy.

Hatch said that he was concerned by the decision to return the U.S. Department of Energy grant, which was designed to make solar installation projects faster and less expensive through changes to rules related to permits, inspections and connecting to the grid. He said that solar power had tremendous potential, particularly after an Iowa Supreme Court decision this month is expected to lead to more installation projects across the state.

"This is something that is going to make an enormous impact on the economy of this state and he just turned a blind eye because the utility companies do not want this kind of source to be a reduction of their use of their utility-owned, corporate energy," Hatch said.

Branstad campaign spokesman Tommy Schultz dismissed the criticism, saying "Hatch can continue to bloviate from the sidelines" while Branstad promotes renewable energy. Branstad signed a bill in May that tripled the amount of tax credits for solar installation projects and has championed wind power and ethanol.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority announced in November that its energy office landed the three-year solar grant. A press release quoted Branstad as saying that "Iowa should be at the front of the pack" in solar energy.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Iowa Utility Association, which represents MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy, successfully lobbied administration officials to make key changes to the grant plan. The association's president, Mark Douglas, said that he was caught off guard by the grant announcement, and felt it was inappropriate for the Iowa Economic Development Authority to study unsettled solar policy and financing issues.

One month after the announcement, IEDA Director Debi Durham wrote a letter to Department of Energy solar analyst Joshua Huneycutt saying that she "was made aware of certain local developments that promise to impact the design and even the propriety of some of the work to be performed." She said it would be inappropriate to make policy recommendations that could be impacted by a pending Iowa Supreme Court case involving solar power, or to "undertake the work of the grant without greater participation by Iowa's investor-owned utilities."

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