Energy costs have been a concern for Iowans with higher heating bills this winter coupled with higher gasoline prices. State lawmakers from both political parties promise energy-related proposals will come out of the 2006 Iowa Legislature. Senate Co-Leader Michael Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says to build a stronger economy, the state should have a stronger energy policy.
Gronstal says the state’s dependence on fossil fuels was highlighted when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, disrupting the supply of gasoline. Gronstal says lawmakers will try to find ways to boost use of ethanol which is made from corn and biodiesel which is made from soybeans. Gronstal says Iowa should make being “energy self-sufficient” a goal.
But while Gronstal and others back the idea of forcing retailers to sell only ethanol-blends from Iowa gas pumps, Republicans like House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City balk at such a mandate. Rants and others, instead, propose giving state tax money to gas stations that convert pumps to dispense E-85, which is 85 percent ethanol.
Rants says the challenge is to create a market where people purchase flexible-fuel vehicles that burn the higher-concentration of ethanol, and gas station owners install the pumps that dispense the fuel. “It’s sort of a chicken and egg kind of question,” Rants says. “Do you have the market with the vehicles or do you have to put in place first the tanks and pumping stations to provide that fuel? It’s a tough issue.”
Rants says legislators will spent a lot of time trying to resolve that debate. The other energy policy debate in the 2006 Legislature, according to Rants, will be figuring out new ways to promote wind energy. Tax credits legislators passed last year got “snapped up” for Rants says there may be renewed calls to give more tax credits to people who put up wind turbines in Iowa. In addition, Rants says legislators will have a hard time tackling a major problem: an aging electrical transmission system. He says if Iowa is to become an exporter of energy, there must be reliable lines to transport that energy out-of-state.