IUC sends research centers’ funds
IOWA CITY – Reversing course after days of criticism, Iowa regulators transferred funding Monday that they had withheld for months from university centers that study alternative energy and global warming.
The release of funds by the Iowa Utilities Board came after critics, including Iowa State University, said the board was overstepping its authority and violating the law by hanging on to $5.1 million in assessments that it collected from utilities.
The money is legally required to support the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. It’s typically transferred by mid-September.
But the utilities board, under new chairwoman Geri Huser, told The Associated Press last week it wouldn’t transfer funding until the centers answered questions about how their research grants have been spent previously.
The board requested the leaders of both centers give presentations Dec. 15 analyzing five years of program results and turn over copies of program and financial audits.
In a press release Monday, the board said it would transfer $4.4 million to the Iowa Energy Center and $772,000 to its UI counterpart as required by law.
The board said that it would continue pushing for more oversight in how funds are used, looking out for the interests of utility ratepayers.
Iowa State vice president for research Sarah Nusser sent a strongly worded letter to Huser on Monday morning, demanding the immediate release of the funding.
She said the board had no “authority to withhold funds” or any fiduciary obligation over them, as Huser has claimed.
The centers are overseen by the universities and governed by the Iowa Board of Regents, not the utilities board.
Nusser said the center had started planning for cuts if the funding delay continued, diverting resources from its mission of providing research and education on energy efficiency and alternative energy.
“If we are required to phase down or cease operations, even temporarily, the damage to the center will be permanent,” she wrote. “At present, the plan will include provisions for suspending grant programs, rescinding cost-share commitments, halting outreach, and dismissing staff.”
Nusser said the university was enlisting the Iowa attorney general’s office in “securing the release of the appropriation.” That office said Friday the funding “should be transferred … in a manner that permits the entities to carry out their respective missions, as established by law.”
Utilities board spokesman Don Tormey said Huser hasn’t seen Nusser’s letter. He said the board agreed with the attorney general’s position and would transfer the money when appropriate.
The funding delay was the first in the 25-year history of the centers, which are funded through a 0.1 percent assessment on gas and electric utilities revenues.
Greg Carmichael, director of the UI center that studies impacts of climate change, said school officials planned to send a letter to Huser on Tuesday offering to give a presentation Dec. 22 or Dec. 23. He said the release of the funding was “a good step.”
The utilities board is required by law to receive an annual report from the centers, which they have provided. Huser, a member of the energy center’s advisory council, has been frustrated by its response to her call for an audit of its grant programs. At a recent meeting, the advisory council agreed to move forward with a program review, which isn’t what she had in mind.
Huser accused the center of resisting oversight and the board’s statement claimed its leadership had repeatedly ignored requests for information. ISU spokesman John McCarroll responded that center administrators “don’t know what the IUB is referring to.”
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