Iowa's Energy Plan Says "Think Beyond Corn"

State agency updates Iowa's "Plan for Energy Independence."

The state of Iowa's new energy independence plan urges the state to move to second-generation biofuels beyond the corn-fed ethanol industry. It also says Iowa should encourage the building of small windmills in addition to large wind farms to generate electricity. And it calls for electric utilities to use conservation as a "first fuel" before the utilities build more generators.

The plan, released December 23, is one of the things the Iowa Office of Energy Independence is given the responsibility of writing and updating at the end of each year. That responsibility was given to the agency when the Iowa Legislature created the office of energy independence at the order of Gov. Chet Culver in 2007. The office also administers the $100 million Iowa Power Fund, which is used to help pay for energy research projects in the state.

More Iowa Power Fund grants approved

Iowa Power Fund Chairman Fred Hubbell says in its first year, the fund received 160 applications totaling more than $308 million. Of the $100 million in Power Fund money available, $14.75 million will go to ethanol producer Poet, to help the company pay for converting part of its refinery at Emmetsburg to make cellulosic ethanol.

On December 24 the Power Fund board approved a $1.1 million grant for a methane digester at the Amana Farms. The digester will convert livestock manure into fuel. The board also approved $2.4 million grant to Iowa State University to research new gasification techniques and to a company at Osage in northern Iowa to buy and begin using a device that makes energy-producing briquettes out of wood, paper or other biomass.

"The events of the past year reinforce for Iowans that there is no status quo of energy," says Roya Stanley, director of the Office of Energy Independence.

Iowa is producing more of its own energy

The new energy plan points out the fact that Iowa's domestic energy production has increased by 185% in the last decade, mainly by the development of ethanol manufacturing plants and wind energy farms.

The plan acknowledges ethanol's rocky path the last few months as falling ethanol prices have eroded profit margins for ethanol plants. Three of Iowa's 32 ethanol plants have recently closed, at least temporarily, due to bankruptcy in recent weeks. Production of ethanol at Iowa facilities "has been at less than total capacity because of difficult market conditions," the plan states.

The plan urges development of cellulosic ethanol and other fuels made from plants, but cautions that "feedstock for second generation biofuels will be more readily available across the nation. The increased focus on research and development will play to the strengths of other states, such as California and Massachusetts."

The plan also urges the state of Iowa to focus on "increasing the capacity and output of small-scale wind generation" through streamlined permitting processes and the use of net metering by utilities and electric cooperatives. Net metering allows individuals who have built small-scale wind generators to realize savings on their electric bills when they produce surplus energy.

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