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2009 August 26 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Report Prompts Questions Over Iowa Job Training Plan

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A report on the Iowa Power Fund shows it has created only 100 new jobs, but could generate many more if state-backed alternative energy projects are successful.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which researches issues for lawmakers and prepared the report, said $47.7 million from the four-year Power Fund has been matched by $85 million in federal funding and $101 million in private money. The money has financed a number of alternative energy projects, ranging from biofuel production to the storing of energy generated by wind turbines.

Ron Robinson, a senior analyst for the Legislative Services Agency, said if the projects succeed, they could create 850 to 1,000 jobs.

Despite the potential for future jobs, some critics focused on the small number created so far.

“I don’t know many Iowans who think spending a half-million dollars per job is a very good return on investment,” said Rep. Chris Rants, a Sioux City Republican seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Rants believes the state would be better off putting the money into community college job training programs.

The $100 million Power Fund was created in 2007 to generate jobs and ease dependence on foreign oil by spending state money on the alternative energy industry. Gov. Chet Culver pushed hard for the fund during his 2006 campaign.

Culver spokesman Phil Roeder said the report doesn’t mention the hundreds of construction jobs that have been generated by projects sparked by the Power Fund.

And he said the $47 million figure cited in the report is misleading. Roeder said only about $35 million of that was spent on projects. Another $7.5 million was used for flood recovery efforts, and $5 million went to community colleges for energy education and training.

While the focus has been on job creation, Roeder said that’s just one of the Power Fund’s missions.

“Part of it was to create jobs and part of it was to create a climate that attracts other renewable energy companies, and part of it was to make Iowa a place where the renewable energy industry is going to grow,” he said.

The governor’s office estimates that so-called “green jobs” in Iowa grew by 3,524 between 2003 and 2008 and now total 8,737.

Culver has made alternative energy production a focal point of his administration.

He has traveled to Alaska to give speeches describing Iowa’s success in alternative energy production, including its status as the nation’s second-largest producer of wind energy.

Iowa has more than 2,000 wind turbines, which generate 15 percent of the state’s energy needs.

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