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Posted on  

July 24, 2002

Vilsack suggests renewable energy projects

He urges using $50 million of state's tobacco money

Des Moines Register

Gov. Tom Vilsack on Wednesday proposed spending part of Iowa's share of the national tobacco settlement on alternative energy projects across the state.

Diverting $50 million in tobacco money would allow the state to help cities contribute to the construction of renewable energy plants, such as wind turbines that convert wind energy into electricity.

Vilsack said his goals are to reduce the amount of money Iowa spends on out-of-state energy and develop energy as a commodity Iowa can sell to other states. The energy proposal, which Vilsack unveiled in Cedar Rapids, is part of a multipart plan to raise per-capita income in Iowa by $1,250 annually.

"This plan will create new jobs and new revenue for the state that can then be reinvested in other economic development efforts," said Vilsack, a Democrat seeking re-election this year.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Gross on Wednesday criticized Vilsack's suggestion to use the tobacco money.

"The real problem with using those funds is you use them one time and they're gone. What would happen in year two?" said Gross, who also questioned if such spending is allowable under state law. "Doing more of this robbing from other funds is only going to make our budget situation worse."

Gross made similar comments when Vilsack on Tuesday proposed spending $30 million of the state's $438 million tobacco fund to help communities pay for business expansion. The governor also called for restructuring the Department of Economic Development to give local officials more say in the state grant process.

Vilsack spokesman Joe Householder said building energy plants doesn't require recurring sources of money.

"You don't rebuild a wind farm every year," he said.

Gross suggested Wednesday commissioning a "Manhattan Project" to develop biomass energy as a way of diminishing the state's reliance on petroleum, coal and nuclear fuel.

Gross said he supports providing subsidies to businesses that develop biomass, which draws energy from burning crop residue such as corn stalks or from burning crops specifically used for fuel, such as switchgrass.

Vilsack also proposed Tuesday dividing the state into 15 economic development regions where local boards of business and government officials would devise strategies and petition the state government for grants and loans.

Gross called Vilsack's economic initiative, which also calls for increasing the Vision Iowa grant program for community attractions, an election-year gimmick.

Gross has said he would make his running mate, Debi Durham, the director of the Department of Economic Development if she is elected lieutenant governor.

Vilsack has said the idea would create the appearance of impropriety because businesses that support Gross' campaign might appear to receive unfair treatment if they were to benefit directly from decisions by the department.


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