Corn Belt Power Cooperative welcomed Sen. Chuck Grassley to Humboldt headquarters May 30, where he visited about energy issues with approximately 45 co-op employees, managers and directors. Grassley’s visit served as part of his annual 99-county town meeting schedule.
Rick Olesen, president and chief executive officer, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, opened discussion explaining the importance of the ethanol industry to Iowa’s electric cooperatives. He stated that 25 percent of all the electricity Corn Belt Power’s member co-ops deliver serves ethanol plants. Olesen asked the senator about the status of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Sen. Grassley commented, “This administrator of the EPA has very liberally given waivers. He should stick to what the President promised in 2016 when he was campaigning before the Renewable Fuels Association, which is 15 billion gallons, which is what the law says.”
Jim Vermeer, vice president, business development, and Brittany Dickey, development finance director, detailed Corn Belt Power’s Revolving Loan Fund and the projects it has assisted in northern Iowa. Dickey shared information on loans provided to Brother’s Market, Grundy Center; an emergency communications system, Humboldt County; and a Dairy Queen, Algona.
Karen Berte, senior vice president, finance and administration, and Kevin Bornhoft, vice president, engineering and system operations, explained how Corn Belt Power uses Rural Utilities Service loans to upgrade aging transmission lines.
Grassley commented, “The RUS loan program will continue. There has been some use of funds in past years to duplicate where some areas are already getting broadband. I think we should emphasize use where there are no services.”
Ken Kuyper, executive vice president and general manager, and Mike Thatcher, vice president, generation, discussed the importance of 24/7 baseload generation, especially in a market where tax incentives have created low-cost wind generation.
Kuyper explained that on May 14 when the wind was not blowing, high temperatures resulted in Corn Belt Power being called to run all of its combustion turbines and diesel generation – units that rarely operate. With early retirements of coal and nuclear plants, there is concern that the country may face a shortage of generation should there not be adequate compensation for coal and nuclear generation.
Jean Schaffer, senior legislative representative, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, explained comments her cooperative submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking for fair compensation for generation assets that can respond to changes in wind power.
Grassley commented, “It comes down to the tax advantages of wind. When I started out, I didn’t think wind would turn out to be the big thing it has turned out to be. We will end the tax credit in 2020.
“The war on coal is part of the problem. Everybody wants to do away with coal. The country won’t wake up until we have some massive brownout that you’re talking about. We couldn’t predict on May 14 that the wind wouldn’t blow. We ought to have investment that is over protection against brownouts.”
Tim Marienau, chief executive officer, Prairie Energy Cooperative, discussed the importance of cooperatives coming together to assist after a disaster has hit an area. He told the senator how 15 electric c-op employees from Iowa went to Okefenoke, Georgia, to help restore power after Hurricane Irma hit last year.
Sen. Grassley responded, “I didn’t know you did that, but I’m not surprised.”