Culver: Iowa a model for renewable energy policy - May 14, 2011 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Adam B. Sullivan - - Policy - Generation - Technical Articles - Index - Library - GENI - Global Energy Network Institute

Culver: Iowa a model for renewable energy policy

May 14, 2011 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Adam B. Sullivan -

Former Gov. Chet Culver says other states should look to Iowa's wind energy success as a model for building renewable energy industries.

Culver is spending this weekend at the Iowa Renewable Energy Association Symposium on the University of Iowa campus to represent The Chet Culver Group -- the Democrat's new consulting firm which focuses on renewable energy. On Saturday afternoon, Culver toured displays set up in the Iowa Memorial Union by renewable energy groups. Today, Culver will address the conference from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Iowa Memorial Union Main Ballroom.

'This is an emerging new sector of our economy. I think it's the most exciting place in terms of economic growth and long term energy security,' he said.

Iowa is the United States' second highest producer of wind energy and almost 20 percent of Iowans' energy comes from wind farms, according to the Iowa Wind Energy association.

Culver said Iowa's progress in wind energy is the result of more than two decades of what he calls 'visionary, forwardthinking' policy that groups state, local, and federal funding with private sector players.

'We've perfected that template and shown the world what's possible if you work with the state and local government levels. We've shown how you can rapidly expand those industries,' Culver said. 'The model is there and there's no reason we can't replicate it in other states.' Still, though, cost is big barrier to expanding renewable energy production.

For instance, Culver said biomass -- burning wood or other natural waste for energy -- could be a viable option for municipalities or big companies, but coal is often cheaper than biomass fuel. To offset that cost difference, Culver said the government should offer tax credits to firms which reduce their coal consumption.

'Until it makes sense financially, until that spreadsheet looks a little different, it's just going to lay dormant,' he said.

In addition to cost, bureaucracy can block renewable energy. Culver -- an elected official for twelve years and the son of a former U.S. senator -- said government is both a catalyst and a barrier to expanding renewable energy.

On one hand, the federal government or state governments offer tax breaks to firms that reduce their energy consumption or develop energy technologies. On the other hand, building codes and local regulations sometimes make it difficult for homeowners or small businesses to install wind or solar units.

Culver said his experience in government eight years as Iowa Secretary of State and four as governor -- equips him well to navigate that public-private terrain.

'You've got to get everyone together -- public sector, private sector, non-profits. That's what I did as governor. We need to look at how do we get everyone on the same page and cut through the red tape,' he said.

Culver has kept a low profile since leaving office earlier this year following a loss to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. But Culver said Saturday that he doesn't intend to disappear from politics altogether. He suggested he'll stay involved with issue advocacy rather than focusing on Democratic Party politics.

'I want to stay involved in the political arena and continue to have a voice,' he said. 'After 12 years in elected office, I hope I can contribute to discussions in a positive way.'

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Updated: 2003/07/28