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DES MOINES - In 2006, when Chet Culver traveled the state as a candidate for governor, one of his signature proposals was the creation of a $100 million power fund to promote research and development of renewable fuels.

With Culver's loss to Republican Terry Branstad in this past fall's election, the power fund is quietly going away.

"The power fund officially ceased to exist on June 30," said Lucy Norton, managing director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and a former member of the Power Fund's board of directors. "But, I think it certainly increased our ability to produce more of our own energy."

However, everything associated with the fund isn't disappearing.

Although the available money has been allocated for a long list of projects, some of those projects are multi-year efforts, and all funds have not been spent. Those contracts will be honored.

Also, the Office of Energy Independence, created at the same time as the fund, still exists although it eventually will be broken up with various duties moved to different branches of state government.

"We're currently still operating at the existing location," said Debi Durham, the state's economic development director.

But, Durham says she has assembled a group of department heads to discuss the proper location for various jobs now done in the Office of Energy Independence. It is likely the department will be disbanded, and its services moved to different departments.

They will use what are called 28E agreements between the departments until the Legislature returns next year and defines some of the specific rules and responsibilities.

Some of the jobs of the office were done by other agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources or the Iowa Utilities Board, before the Office of Energy Independence was created in 2007.

Of course, the end of the power fund and the dismantling of the energy office aren't happening in a vacuum.

When he took office, Branstad pledged to change the Department of Economic Development to make it more of a public-private partnership. Durham is overseeing that change as well.

But, she says the state remains committed to supporting renewable energy. Durham also praised the power fund board and the staff at the energy office for boosting renewable energy in the state.

"They did what they were asked to do," she says of the board and the staff. "It accomplished a great deal."

Durham, former president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, says the power fund was created in 2007 with bi-partisan support, and the original proposal was for $25 million a year for four years (a total of $100 million).

That money was to be spent on all types of renewable energy: ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar. When the four years and $100 million were gone, the program was allowed to end.

"The reality is the program is over," Durham says.

It didn't end in partisan bickering, although that may have been the theme for much what happened in the Legislature this spring.

Durham says there was little push back from lawmakers wishing to extend the program.

But, she stresses all grants and contracts negotiated and approved under the power-fund program will be honored. Some of those approved are multi-year contracts.

Of the money allocated for the power fund, about $7.5 million ended up going toward flood recovery programs. Some was eliminated as part of across-the-board state cuts.

About $2.5 million a year went to educational programs at Iowa's community colleges. But, about $70 million was approved for spending on 49 projects.

The largest such project was POET's Project Liberty to experiment with cellulosic ethanol at its ethanol production facility in Emmetsburg. It received $14.75 million. 

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