Legislative leaders from both political parties are holding out hope plans for a coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown may be resurrected. But Governor Chet Culver told reporters this morning he and the state have done all it can. "It’s really in the Iowa Utility Board court at this point," Culver said during a news conference in his office. "It’s completely their decision, if they don’t want to go forward."
Culver suggested the utility’s decision to pull the plug on plans for the plant was driven largely by the state of the economy. "I know that a lot of the leaders in Marshalltown were working hard on this. I know that labor was very engaged," Culver said. "But these are very complex projects that are extremely expensive and during a very tough economic downturn, it’s sometimes tough to get the financing together to make those projects work."
Legislative leaders, meanwhile, seem less inclined to declare the project dead. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has been deeply involved in utility-related issues during his tenure at the statehouse. "We’re going to review that decision. We’re going to review the rational of the company involved," Gronstal said this morning during a news conference in his statehouse office. "We’re going to review the decision of the Utility Board and have those discussions."
According to Gronstal, Iowa’s laws are unique. "First of all, we’ve been able to work with companies. Warren Buffett says Iowa has the most progressive policy in the country as it related to energy production," Gronstal said. "We’ve done that with both base-load capacity for coal-fired plants. We’ve done it with natural gas plants and we’ve become a world leader in wind energy."
But Republican legislators warn the state may face brown-outs within a few years if utilities quit building new power generating stations. House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha disputes the governor’s contention the plant isn’t being built because of economic conditions. "I think the thing you need to know is at least as I understand it when the Alliant Energy or Interstate Power folks talked to me was this decision’s not being made, at least not directly, because of the state of the economy — either in Iowa or the national economy," Paulsen said during another statehouse news conference held shortly before noon today. "This decision’s being made because for whatever reason, Iowa regulatory agencies have decided to increase the cost of building it to a point where it no longer serves the rate-payer the best."
Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton hopes the deal can be resurrected. "It is extremely important to Iowa’s economic future that we have a sufficient supply of electricity and we believe that the state must be a parner in making that happen," McKinley said.
McKinley also questions whether Google or Microsoft will be interested in expanding into Iowa — as planned — if the state doesn’t have more electric generation plants on-line soon.
The $1.5 billion dollar plant was expected to employ up to 1500 people in Marshalltown.
Click on the audio link below to hear Governor Culver’s question-and-answer session with reporters, followed by a news conference featuring Democratic legislative leaders and concluding with a third news conference featuring Republican legislative leaders.