Iowa Public Television

 

Diane Munns on Energy and Communication

posted on May 31, 2004

FROM THE STUDIOS OF IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS "IMAGINE IOWA: A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID YEPSEN." THIS EVENING'S GUEST IS DIANE MUNNS, CHAIR OF THE IOWA UTILITIES BOARD. HERE IS "DES MOINES REGISTER" POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN.

Yepsen: HELLO, I'M DAVID YEPSEN. THIS IS THE FIRST OF A WEEK'S WORTH OF PROGRAMS TO EXAMINE HOW THE STATE CAN BECOME MORE PROSPEROUS. TONIGHT WE'LL ADDRESS TWO COMPONENTS OF 21ST-CENTURY LIFE: ENERGY AND COMMUNICATION. CERTAINLY THE COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS THAT SERVICE IOWA'S METRO-BASED COMPANIES ARE AS SOPHISTICATED AS ANY IN THE WORLD, BUT NO ONE KNOWS THE POTENTIAL OF THE AGE OF VIRTUAL COMMERCE BETTER THAN RURAL IOWANS. EVEN BEFORE THE INTERNET, IT WAS A FACT OF LIFE FOR IOWA FARMERS THAT THE FUTURE HARVEST OF THEIR CROPS BE PRICED AT DISTANT MARKETPLACES. TODAY AS "MARKET TO MARKET'S" JOHN NICHOLS EXPLAINS, A SCORE OF SMALL IOWA TELCOS ARE NOT ONLY LINKING RURAL ENTERPRISES WITH THE WORLD, THEY'RE ALSO ENHANCING LOCAL COMMERCE AND ENRICHING THE CIVIC LIFE OF NONMETRO COMMUNITIES.

Nichols: MIKE WILLER REPRESENTS THE FOURTH GENERATION OF HIS FAMILY TO FARM THE ROLLING HILLS OF NORTHWEST IOWA. IN SOME WAYS, THOUGH, WILLER FARMS DIFFERENTLY THAN HIS PREDECESSORS. HIS 60 HEAD OF CATTLE ARE RAISED NATURALLY, WITHOUT THE AID OF SUBTHERAPEUTIC ANTIBIOTICS AND HORMONES. AND IN AN EFFORT TO ATTRACT MORE CUSTOMERS, WILLER DIRECT MARKETS HIS BEEF ON THE INTERNET.

Willer: I USE IT MORE AS A MARKETING TOOL. A LOT OF HITS ARE COMING FROM LOCAL, AND YOU CAN ALSO TELL THAT THEY'RE COMING FROM THE OMAHA AREA AND ALSO FROM OVERSEAS. THEY'RE COMING FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES AND IT'S KIND OF EXCITING TO SEE THAT.

Nichols: WILLER ENJOYS HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICES PROVIDED BY HIS LOCAL TELEPHONE COMPANY, THE ONLY SUCH PROVIDER IN HIS REGION. ACCORDING TO A STUDY BY THE PEW RESEARCH CENTER, 36 PERCENT OF THE ON-LINE POPULATION IN URBAN AREAS UTILIZE A BROADBAND CONNECTION, COMPARED TO RURAL AREAS WHERE ONLY 19 PERCENT OF THE ON-LINE POPULATION CONNECT VIA BROADBAND.

Pietcher: IOWA HAS THE LARGEST NUMBER OF INDEPENDENT TELEPHONE COMPANIES OF ANY STATE IN THE UNITED STATES, AND THAT CAME ABOUT BACK WHEN THE RURAL ELECTRIFICATION WENT THROUGH. WE HAD FARMERS HERE IN THE STATE OF IOWA THAT WERE VERY ENTREPRENEUR IN SPIRIT. AND THEY SAID, "WE HAVE ELECTRICITY; NOW WE WANT TO HAVE TELEPHONE SERVICE." AND THE BIG COMPANIES WERE NOT COMING TO RURAL IOWA.

Nichols: TODAY NEARLY 150 INDEPENDENT TELEPHONE COMPANIES SERVE PRIMARILY RURAL COMMUNITIES THROUGHOUT IOWA, PROVIDING EVERYTHING FROM BASIC TELEPHONE SERVICE TO BROADBAND INTERNET CONNECTIONS AND CABLE TELEVISION. IN MANY CASES MAJOR CARRIERS AREN'T INTERESTED IN SERVING RURAL COMMUNITIES, BUT INDUSTRY OFFICIALS CLAIM INDEPENDENT TELEPHONE COMPANIES ARE CONNECTING IOWA'S RURAL CITIZENS.

Duncan: THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PLACES I KNOW THAT ARE IN RURAL IOWA THAT ARE SERVED BY INDEPENDENT TELEPHONE COMPANIES THAT NO MATTER HOW FAR OUT OF TOWN THE CUSTOMER MIGHT LIVE, THE PHONE COMPANY CAN HOOK UP THAT HOUSE, THEIR BARN, WHATEVER, THEIR SHED WITH HIGH-SPEED INTERNET, NO MATTER HOW FAR OUT OF TOWN THEY ARE. I KNOW OF SEVERAL SUBURBAN AREAS IN THE STATE THAT DON'T EVEN HAVE ACCESS TO HIGH-SPEED INTERNET RIGHT NOW.

Nichols: A STUDY CONDUCTED BY THE IOWA UTILITIES BOARD IN 2003 REVEALED THAT 67.8 PERCENT OF THE STATE'S RURAL COMMUNITIES HAD ACCESS TO BROADBAND INTERNET SERVICE, VIRTUALLY THE SAME AS THEIR URBAN COUNTERPARTS. WILLER'S BEEF4YOU.COM WEBSITE UTILIZES A BROADBAND CONNECTION FROM WESTERN IOWA TELEPHONE, A MEMBER-OWNED COOPERATIVE SERVING MORE THAN 3,000 RURAL CUSTOMERS.

Clark: THE MAJOR CARRIERS ARE CONCERNED WITH THEIR PROFITS. US BEING A COOPERATIVE, WE ARE MORE CONCERNED WITH GIVING OUR CUSTOMERS THE BEST SERVICES FOR THE LOWEST COST. AND LARGE URBAN CARRIERS JUST AREN'T INTERESTED IN COMING OUT IN THOSE AREAS BECAUSE OF THE SPARSE POPULATION THERE.

Nichols: SINCE THE COMPANY IS OWNED BY ITS MEMBERS, WESTERN IOWA TELEPHONE RETURNS MUCH OF ITS PROFITS TO ITS CUSTOMERS THROUGH A DIVIDEND CALLED CAPITAL CREDITS. FOR SOME MEMBERS, THE RETURNS ARE SUBSTANTIAL.

Cronin: WESTERN IOWA TELEPHONE HAS GIVEN CAPITAL CREDITS BACK EVERY YEAR FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER. I BELIEVE THIS PAST YEAR, OURS WERE A LITTLE OVER $7,000 HERE.

Nichols: JACK CRONIN MANAGES THE WESTERN IOWA CO-OP. HE CLAIMS CAPITAL CREDITS HAVE BEEN GOOD FOR HIS GRAIN ELEVATOR AND, CONSEQUENTLY, GOOD FOR HIS COMMUNITY.

Cronin: WESTERN IOWA TELEPHONE HAS TREATED US VERY WELL. THEY'RE VERY FINANCIALLY SOUND AND THEY'RE A COOPERATIVE AND, I GUESS, THEY'RE LOCAL. AND WE WANT OUR CUSTOMERS TO BUSINESS LOCALLY, AND WE'RE GOING TO DO BUSINESS LOCALLY.

Yepsen: IN LARGE PART, IOWA'S RURAL PHONE COOPERATIVES HAVE GROWN AND DEVELOPED BECAUSE MORE URBAN-BASED COMPANIES DIDN'T VALUE THE SMALL NUMBER OF RURAL CUSTOMERS. THE COMPANIES AND THE COMMUNITIES THEY SERVED HAVE RESPONDED BY BUILDING THEIR OWN ENTERPRISES. AS A NET IMPORTER OF ENERGY, IOWA FINDS ITSELF IN NEED OF A SIMILAR EFFORT ON THAT FRONT. IT CERTAINLY IS IN THE STATE'S ECONOMIC INTEREST TO PRODUCE MORE OF ITS OWN ENERGY AND SPEND LESS ON IMPORTS. IT'S POSSIBLE, INDEED, AS "LIVING IN IOWA'S" MORGAN HALGREN EXPLAINS, THAT THE CONVERGENCE OF NEED, CAPITAL, AND TECHNOLOGY IS IGNITING AN ENERGY BOOM IN THE STATE.

Halgren: PERHAPS THE BROADEST ADVANTAGE TO IOWA'S ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMY IS THE DEVELOPMENT OF SO-CALLED ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SYSTEMS. MOST OF IOWA'S ELECTRICITY IS IMPORTED FROM OTHER STATES AND IS PRODUCED BY BURNING COAL, BUT WIND POWER, ABUNDANT IN IOWA, CAN BE GENERATED BY RESIDENT OWNERS, KEEPING MORE OF THE STATE'S ENERGY DOLLARS IN IOWA.

Osterberg: WIND SEEMS TO BE THE CHEAPEST. WIND IS SO CHEAP NOW THAT WITH THE RECENT RUNUP IN NATURAL GAS PRICES, KILOWATT HOUR PER KILOWATT HOUR FOR A NEW SOURCE OF ELECTRICITY, WIND IS CHEAPER THAN NATURAL GAS, CHEAPER THAN COAL. IT'S THE CHEAPEST.

Halgren: IOWA IS THE TENTH WINDIEST STATE IN THE NATION. PRODUCING ABOUT 471 MEGAWATTS, IT RANKS FOURTH IN THE NATION IN WIND GENERATED ELECTRICITY OUTPUT. BUT THAT'S ONLY A FRACTION OF ITS POTENTIAL. NORTHWEST AND NORTH CENTRAL IOWA ARE THE WINDIEST AREAS IN IOWA, WITH WIND SPEEDS AVERAGING 15 TO 18 MILES PER HOUR, AND DEVELOPERS ARE BEGINNING TO LOOK AT SOME SERIOUS INVESTMENT INTO IOWA'S WIND POWER. FOR EXAMPLE, MIDAMERICAN ENERGY HOPES TO SOON BUILD ONE OF THE LARGEST WIND FARMS IN THE COUNTRY.

Budler: EARLY IN 2003, ACTUALLY, GOVERNOR VILSACK CHALLENGED THE ENERGY INDUSTRY IN THE STATE OF IOWA TO COME UP WITH 1,000 MEGAWATTS OF RENEWABLE GENERATION PRIOR TO 2010, AND THAT'S A CHALLENGE THAT OUR LEADERSHIP TOOK VERY SERIOUSLY.

Halgren: IMPORTANT TO THE COMPANY'S PLANS IS CONGRESSIONAL RENEWAL OF THE EXPIRED 1.8-CENT-PER-KILOWATT-HOUR FEDERAL PRODUCTION TAX CREDIT. THE CREDIT MAKES WIND COMPETITIVE WITH OTHER FORMS OF ENERGY. ALSO AWAITING PASSAGE OF THE CREDIT IS THE FOUNDER OF HEARTLAND PORK, BRUCE RASTETTER, WHO HOPES TO SOON BUILD A 300-MEGAWATT WIND FARM.

Rastetter: I THINK WHAT I TELL IOWANS ABOUT WIND ENERGY IS WE HAVE A GREAT UNTAPPED RESOURCE THAT EVERYONE OUGHT TO BE ABLE TO AGREE UPON IS A GREAT WAY TO HAVE A NEW ECONOMIC INDUSTRY TO THE STATE IN A VIABLE WAY. IT SHOULD BE NONCONTROVERSIAL.

Halgren: WIND FARMS PAY LANDOWNERS BETWEEN $2,500 AND $4,500 A YEAR FOR EACH TURBINE. A TURBINE TAKES UP ABOUT 3/4 OF AN ACRE IN SPACE, AND THE LAND AROUND THE TOWER CAN STILL BE FARMED. IN ADDITION TO JOBS, INCOME, AND ELECTRICITY, WIND TURBINES ALSO GENERATE TAXES FOR THE LOCAL ECONOMY. TO BE SURE, IOWA HAS BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES, AND ITS LEADERSHIP HAS BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED IN SOME QUARTERS.

President Bush: WE NEED TO USE THAT WHICH WE GROW RIGHT HERE IN PLACES LIKE IOWA TO MAKE US LESS DEPENDENT ON FOREIGN SOURCES OF ENERGY.

Halgren: FOR SOME TIME A CLEAN-BURNING RENEWABLE FUEL HAS BEEN PRODUCED FROM IOWA'S MOST ABUNDANT CROP... CORN. ACCORDING TO THE IOWA RENEWABLE FUELS ASSOCIATION, 18 ETHANOL MILLS IN IOWA WILL SOON HAVE THE CAPACITY TO PRODUCE 975 MILLION GALLONS PER YEAR FROM 361 MILLION BUSHELS OF CORN. THE ETHANOL INDUSTRY HAS A LARGE ECONOMIC IMPACT IN IOWA. WHEN THE PLANTS ARE FARMER OWNED, THE MONEY STAYS AND RECIRCULATES THROUGH THE LOCAL ECONOMY. EXISTING ETHANOL PLANTS GENERATE AN ESTIMATED $363.6 MILLION IN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY TO LOCAL COMMUNITIES. MOST HEAVY MACHINERY, TRUCKS, AND FARM EQUIPMENT BURN NUMBER 2 DIESEL, BUT THE FUEL IS PETROLEUM BASED AND IS PRODUCED OUTSIDE OF IOWA. HOWEVER, A MAJOR CROP PRODUCED IN IOWA IS THE SOYBEAN, AND ONE OF ITS MANY BYPRODUCTS IS A FUEL USED AS AN ADDITIVE FOR DIESEL. WEST CENTRAL IN RALSTON, THE LARGEST IOWA PRODUCER OF SOYDIESEL OR BIODIESEL FUEL, HOPES TO MANUFACTURER 8- TO 9 MILLION GALLONS OF BIODIESEL FROM SOYBEANS IN 2004. IT PRODUCES ABOUT A GALLON OF BIODIESEL FROM A BUSHEL OF BEANS.

Stroburg: WHEN YOU SMELL AN ENGINE THAT'S RUNNING ON SOYDIESEL OR BIODIESEL, YOU KNOW IT IMMEDIATELY. THERE'S LESS BLACK SMOKE, IT'S MORE WHITE, AND THE SMELL IS MUCH MORE PLEASANT THAN PETROLEUM DIESEL.

Halgren: BUT RENEWABLE ENERGY USUALLY COSTS MORE UNTIL IT ENTERS THE COMMERCIAL MAINSTREAM. EVEN MORE EXPENSIVE ENERGY COULD BE AN ADVANTAGE TO THE IOWA ECONOMY IF THE ENERGY IS PRODUCED WITH IOWA COMMODITIES OR RESOURCES. AND A STRONG IOWA ECONOMY AND HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT CAN OFFER BENEFITS WELL BEYOND THE STATE'S BORDERS.

Harkin: THERE'S A BIOINDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION COMING THAT WILL MAKE THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION LOOK MINOR. YOU WANT THAT TO HAPPEN SOONER RATHER THAN LATER BECAUSE YOU WANT CLEANER WATER, YOU WANT CLEANER AIR, YOU WANT A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE. YOU DON'T WANT TO KEEP FILLING UP YOUR LANDFILLS ALL THE TIME.

Yepsen: PART OF THE GOVERNANCE OF THE ENERGY AND COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTIONS WILL FALL TO DIANE MUNNS. SHE'S A REGULATORY ATTORNEY WHO CHAIRS THE THREE-MEMBER IOWA UTILITIES BOARD, WHICH OVERSEES THE CONDUCT OF THE STATE'S ENERGY AND COMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES. WELCOME, CHAIRWOMAN MUNNS. WE APPRECIATE YOU BEING WITH US.

Munns: THANKS.

Yepsen: I'D LIKE TO FOCUS THESE INTERVIEWS ON SOLUTIONS. WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO IN IOWA TO BECOME LESS DEPENDENT ON IMPORTED ENERGY?

Munns: I THINK THE THING YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER ABOUT THE ENERGY AND THE COMMUNICATION ISSUES AND THE INFRASTRUCTURE IS THESE ARE NETWORKS AND THESE ARE NOT IOWA-ONLY NETWORKS. WITH OUR ENERGY NETWORK, IT'S CONNECTED, YOU KNOW, ALL THROUGH THE EASTERN PART OF THE UNITED STATES. OUR TELECOMMUNICATIONS NETWORK IS REALLY AN INTERNATIONAL NETWORK. YOU CAN PICK UP THE PHONE. SO THESE ARE NETWORK INDUSTRIES. WE HAVE TO FOCUS ON HAVING INFRASTRUCTURE IN IOWA THAT IS RELIABLE AND AFFORDABLE SO THAT WE CAN ATTRACT JOBS HERE AND SUPPORT THE KIND OF LIFESTYLE THAT WE WANT HERE. BUT WE HAVE TO KEEP IN MIND IT'S -- WE HAVE TO WORK HERE, BUT WE ALSO HAVE TO WORK ON A MUCH BROADER LEVEL TO MAKE IT HAPPEN HERE.

Yepsen: WHAT DO WE SPEND NOW FOR ENERGY OUTSIDE THE STATE? IT'S BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. DO YOU HAVE A FIGURE? I'VE SEEN A FIGURE OF $4- TO $6 BILLION; IS THAT CORRECT?

Munns: YEAH, I DON'T HAVE THE FIGURE BUT WE BUY -- WE ARE -- MOST OF OUR ENERGY IS PRODUCED THROUGH BURNING COAL FOR ELECTRICITY, AND WE USE QUITE A BIT OF NATURAL GAS IN HEATING.

Yepsen: WHAT WOULD BE THE ECONOMIC IMPACT IF WE COULD KEEP THAT MONEY IN THIS STATE AS OPPOSED TO SHIPPING IT OUT?

Munns: IT'S TREMENDOUS. IT'S TREMENDOUS.

Yepsen: WHAT DO YOU -- AS A REGULATOR, WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ENCOURAGE IOWANS TO DO MORE WIND, TO DO MORE SOLAR, DO MY BIOMASS, TO DO THINGS TO KEEP THAT MONEY HERE AT HOME?

Munns: WELL, IOWA WAS ONE OF THE EARLY LEADERS. I THINK IT WAS 1990 THAT THE IOWA LEGISLATURE PASSED AN ALTERNATE ENERGY PRODUCTION LAW, ENCOURAGING THAT, AND GIVING US A ROLE IN ENCOURAGING THAT. AND THAT'S THE REASON WHY WE'RE A LEADER IN WIND. I THINK THE CLIP THAT YOU JUST SAW SAID THAT WE WERE FOURTH NATIONALLY, AND WE HAVE MORE COMING ON ALL THE TIME. AS THE PRICES COME DOWN FOR THE COST OF TURBINES AND AS THE COST OF NATURAL GAS INCREASES AND AS THE COSTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES RELATED TO BURNING COAL AND NUCLEAR WASTE, ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE RELATIVE TO WHAT'S HAPPENING AT THE TIME.

Yepsen: WHAT ARE THE IMPEDIMENTS TODAY TO DEVELOPMENT OF WIND ENERGY IN IOWA? AS WE POINTED OUT IN THE OPENING, IT IS GROWING. AS YOU KNOW, IT DOES BECOME MORE COST EFFECTIVE AS THE COST OF NATURAL GAS AND OTHER THINGS GO UP. BUT WHAT ARE THE IMPEDIMENTS TODAY TO DEVELOPING THAT INDUSTRY MORE?

Munns: THERE'S A COUPLE DIFFERENT THINGS. ONE, AGAIN, WAS NOTED ON THE CLIP, AND THAT IS THAT THE PRODUCTION TAX CREDIT REALLY IS A NECESSARY COMPONENT IN MAKING IT WORK ECONOMICALLY. SO IT'S THE CONTINUATION OF THAT TAX CREDIT. THE SECOND THING THAT WE HAVE TO LOOK AT AND BE COGNIZANT OF IS THE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM. WHEN I TALKED ABOUT THIS BEING -- THESE BEING NETWORKS, YOU KNOW, ELECTRICITY FLOWS WHERE ELECTRICITY FLOWS. IT'S ON AN ALTERNATING CURRENT SYSTEM AND YOU HAVE TO DESIGN THE SYSTEM IN ORDER TO TAKE THE POWER AND YOU HAVE TO HAVE A TRANSMISSION SYSTEM THAT IS CAPABLE OF DELIVERING IT TO WHERE IT NEEDS TO GO.

Yepsen: DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH OUR TRANSMISSION GRID IN IOWA?

Munns: I WOULDN'T SAY WE HAVE A PROBLEM RIGHT NOW, BUT WE'RE LOOKING AT EXPANDING. AND NOT ONLY DO WE HAVE WIND, MINNESOTA HAS WIND, SOUTH DAKOTA HAS WIND. YOU KNOW, EVERYBODY WANTS TO GET IT DELIVERED, AND YOU WANT TO GET IT DELIVERED TO MARKET. SO IT WILL TAKE A COOPERATIVE EFFORT AMONG ALL OF US. WHEN I TALKED ABOUT, AGAIN, ABOUT NETWORKS, THERE'S ALSO ANOTHER REGULATOR THAT'S VERY INVOLVED IN THIS AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL, THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION. WE'VE SPLIT JURISDICTION WITH THEM, AND THEY ARE THE ONES WHO REGULATE TRANSMISSION. SO THEY SET A LOT OF THE POLICIES WITH RESPECT TO PRICING AND WHERE THINGS WILL BE BUILT AND HOW THEY'LL BE BUILT AND THOSE INCENTIVES.

Yepsen: NOW, WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT A FEDERAL PRODUCTION TAX CREDIT, THAT IS A FEDERAL PROPOSITION, CORRECT?

Munns: CORRECT.

Yepsen: ISN'T THAT HUNG UP IN THE ENERGY BILL IN CONGRESS RIGHT NOW?

Munns: WELL, I THINK IT'S BEEN TAKEN OUT OF THE ENERGY BILL IN AN ATTEMPT TO GET IT PASSED, BECAUSE I THINK EVERYBODY RECOGNIZES THAT IT IS IMPORTANT AND IT NEEDS TO GO FORWARD.

Yepsen: GO BACK TO THIS TRANSMISSION ISSUE FOR A MOMENT WITH ME. I'M TOLD BY UTILITY PEOPLE THAT IT'S HARD TO GET THE POWER FROM WHERE IT'S GENERATED ON THESE WIND FARMS TO WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE. IF YOU LOOKED AT THOSE MAPS OF WHERE THE WIND FARMS ARE IN NORTH CENTRAL AND NORTHWEST IOWA, THAT'S A LONG WAY AWAY FROM DES MOINES WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE. AND THESE UTILITY EXECUTIVES SAY WE HAVE TO SHIP THAT JUICE THROUGH OMAHA TO GET IT OVER TO DES MOINES. ARE THE UTILITY PEOPLE -- THE UTILITY COMPANIES, ARE YOU LOOKING AT BUILDING NEW TRANSMISSION LINES TO GET THIS WIND ENERGY TO THOSE OF US IN URBAN AREAS?

Munns: I THINK THAT'S WHAT THE DISCUSSION IS, WHAT KIND OF UPGRADES ARE WE GOING TO NEED TO PUT ONTO THE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM. BUT IT IS NOT JUST A QUESTION OF GETTING THIS POWER DELIVERED BECAUSE, AS I SAID, YOU KNOW, POWER GOES WHERE POWER GOES. IN OUR COUNTRY, A DECISION WAS MADE THAT WE WOULDN'T SEND IT BY DIRECT CURRENT BUT BY ALTERNATING CURRENT. SO IT'S ALL LOADED ON THE SAME LINES.

Yepsen: WE'RE HEADED INTO THE SUMMER HEAT, A COOLING SEASON. IT GETS HOT. DO WE HAVE ENOUGH ELECTRICITY IN IOWA?

Munns: WE DO HAVE ENOUGH ELECTRICITY IN IOWA. I DON'T THINK THAT THAT SHOULD BE A CONCERN FOR ANYBODY. THE ISSUES THAT WE'RE RUNNING INTO NOW ARE TRANSMISSION ISSUES AND GETTING IT DELIVERED TO WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE DELIVERED.

Yepsen: I'M TOLD IT'S PRETTY CONTROVERSIAL GETTING A TRANSMISSION LINE BUILT; IS THAT CORRECT?

Munns: WELL, IT HAS TO GO THROUGH SOMEBODY'S LAND, AND IT IS. NOW, THEY'RE WORKING ON AND THERE'S A LOT OF NEW TECHNOLOGY AVAILABLE SO THAT YOU CAN UPGRADE FACILITIES AND YOU CAN USE LINES THAT ARE ALREADY THERE TO TAKE MORE POWER OVER THEM. AND I'M HOPING THAT WILL BE AVAILABLE TO TAKE CARE OF SOME OF THE ISSUES. BUT, YEAH, THESE ARE VERY DIFFICULT ISSUES. THEY INVOLVE PEOPLE'S LANDS. THEY INVOLVE FEDERAL LANDS. THEY INVOLVE GOING THROUGH PLACES THAT ARE ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE.

Yepsen: I WANT TO SWITCH GEARS HERE AND TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ETHANOL. I REALIZE YOUR AGENCY DOES NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH REGULATING THAT, BUT WHAT ARE IMPEDIMENTS TO DEVELOPMENT OF ETHANOL IN THIS STATE? DO YOU SEE ANY PARTICULAR THINGS THERE THAT NEED TO BE DONE?

Munns: YEAH, AND I DON'T KNOW -- LIKE YOU SAID, WE DON'T HAVE A WHOLE LOT TO DO WITH ETHANOL. I DON'T KNOW WHAT --

Yepsen: HAVE WE MAXED OUT ON CONSERVATION AS A SOLUTION TO OUR ENERGY PROBLEMS?

Munns: ABSOLUTELY NOT. THIS IS A PLACE THAT I THINK IS GOING TO TAKE MORE AND MORE ATTENTION. THERE'S A LOT OF CONCERN IN THE COUNTRY ABOUT NATURAL GAS PRICES AND RISING NATURAL GAS PRICES. THE SUPPLY THAT WE HAVE HERE, THE ACCESS TO THAT SUPPLY, WE'VE SEEN A RUNUP. WE'VE SEEN A LOT OF ELECTRICITY GENERATION BEING DONE WITH NATURAL GAS, SO THEN THAT COMPETES WITH HOME HEATING FOR THAT SOURCE. AND WE'VE SEEN INCREASED PRICES. AS A COMMODITY, IT'S NOT REGULATED. IT'S A MARKET PRICE COMMODITY AND IT FLOWS THROUGH AT THAT MARKET PRICE. SO IF YOU CAN'T CONTROL THE PRICE AND THAT'S SET BY THE MARKET, THEN ONE THING THAT CUSTOMERS CAN DO IS CONTROL THEIR OWN USAGE. AND PEOPLE ARE REALLY GOING TO NEED TO BE LOOKING AT, YOU KNOW: HAVE I DONE ALL THE INSULATING THAT I CAN DO; LOOKING AT APPLIANCES; ALL OF THOSE THINGS TO TRY TO REDUCE THEIR USAGE.

Yepsen: THE WIND DOES NOT BLOW ALL OF THE TIME --

Munns: THAT'S CORRECT.

Yepsen: -- SO WHAT DO WE DO WHEN IT'S NOT BLOWING? IT SOUNDS GREAT. THEY'RE CHEAP. THEY'RE CLEAN. BUT DON'T WE STILL HAVE TO HAVE THESE NASTY POWER PLANTS AROUND FOR WHEN IT DOESN'T BLOW?

Munns: WELL, THAT'S ONE OF THE ISSUES ABOUT WIND IS THAT THEY REALLY HAVEN'T FIGURED OUT YET HOW TO STORE IT IN AN ECONOMICAL WAY, ALTHOUGH THEY ARE WORKING ON IT. AND YOU'RE RIGHT, IT'S NOT SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN -- IT'S CALLED DISPATCHABLE, WHICH IS WHEN YOU NEED IT, YOU FIRE UP THE -- LIKE YOU CAN FIRE UP A NATURAL GAS GENERATING PLANT, YOU CAN FIRE UP A COAL PLANT. YOU'RE DEPENDENT ON WHEN THAT WIND IS BLOWING. IT'S GREAT POWER WHEN IT IS BLOWING. BUT YOUR QUESTION ABOUT WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THAT, WE CAN EITHER BUILD MORE PLANTS OR WE CAN WORK TO CUT THOSE PEAKS WITH CONSERVATION MEASURES, THE THINGS YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT.

Yepsen: I WANT TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT A CONCEPT CALLED NET METERING, AND IT INVOLVES THIS NOTION THAT AN INDIVIDUAL CAN GO OUT THERE AND BUILD HIS OR HER OWN WIND TURBINE AND THEN, WHEN THE WIND IS BLOWING, SELL IT BACK TO A POWER COMPANY. THERE'S BEEN A GREAT DEAL OF CONTROVERSY OVER THAT. THE ACCUSATION IS MADE THAT THE POWER COMPANIES ARE NOT WILLING TO BE VERY COOPERATIVE WITH THESE SMALL PRODUCERS IN GETTING THIS ENERGY SOLD BACK INTO THE SYSTEM. NOW, IT'S FINE THE POWER COMPANIES ARE BUILDING THEIR OWN WIND FARMS, BUT WHAT'S BEING DONE AT THE STATE LEVEL TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR AN INDIVIDUAL TO SELL POWER BACK TO A UTILITY COMPANY?

Munns: THESE ARE, AGAIN, INTERCONNECTION ISSUES. AND THE JURISDICTION OVER THESE THINGS ONCE AGAIN GETS ALL BALLED UP INTO WHO DOES WHAT AND WHO CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE TO INTERCONNECT. THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT FOR THE INVESTOR OWNED AS THEY ARE FOR THE RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES. THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION HAS RECENTLY TAKEN STEPS WITH THE RULE MAKING TO TRY TO WORK TO STREAMLINE THIS. THE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, THEIR ENERGY SIDE OF THAT AGENCY HAS RECENTLY COMMISSIONED. AND I'VE SEEN THE DRAFT REPORT LOOKING AT INTERCONNECTION IN IOWA AND MAKING SOME RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THINGS THAT WE CAN DO.

Yepsen: I WANT TO SWITCH GEARS AGAIN, AND I WANT TO TALK ABOUT TELECOMMUNICATIONS. WHAT IMPEDIMENTS ARE THERE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF BROADBAND IN THIS STATE? AGAIN, THE SET-UP PIECE POINTED OUT ABOUT 67 PERCENT OF RURAL IOWANS HAVE ACCESS TO IT. SO DO URBAN IOWANS. THAT LEAVES ABOUT A THIRD OF THE STATE THAT DOESN'T HAVE ACCESS. WHAT DO WE NEED TO BE DOING TO GIVE EVERYONE ACCESS TO BROADBAND TECHNOLOGY?

Munns: THERE'S A COUPLE DIFFERENT ISSUES ON BROADBAND. WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT BROADBAND, YOU'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT ONE THING. THERE'S A COUPLE DIFFERENT DELIVERY SYSTEMS. YOU CAN GET IT THROUGH CABLE MODEL. YOU CAN GET IT THROUGH DSL. YOU CAN GET IT WIRELESS. AND EACH OF THOSE TECHNOLOGIES HAVE SOME LIMITATIONS WITH IT, SO THERE'S NOT ONE ANSWER TO GETTING IT DELIVERED IN THE STATE, IF WE'RE TALKING ABOUT EVERY PERSON IN THE STATE HAVING ACCESS. AND I THINK, IDEALLY, THAT'S WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT, FINDING THAT TECHNOLOGY THAT WILL BE THE MOST EFFICIENT IN DELIVERING IT. I CAN TELL YOU THERE ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT INCENTIVES FOR COMPANIES TO PUT BROADBAND OUT THERE, FROM RURAL COMPANIES TO THE LARGER INDUSTRIAL COMPANIES. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS TRIED IT THROUGH PUTTING OUT DIFFERENT TAX INCENTIVES TO GET IT DONE. WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO FIND THE BEST WAY TO INCENT TO GET RURAL IOWA TO GET THE BROADBAND DELIVERED.

Yepsen: I HAD A TELECOMMUNICATIONS LOBBYIST TELL ME ONE TIME THAT THE GREATEST IMPEDIMENT TO DEVELOPING HIGH-SPEED INTERNET ACCESS IN IOWA IS THAT IOWANS DON'T WANT TO BUY IT, THAT THERE ARE A LOT OF IOWANS WHO DON'T NEED IT, WHO DON'T HAVE IT, AND SINCE THEY'RE NOT BUYING IT, THERE'S NO MARKET THAT GETS CREATED FOR IT. SO IS ONE OF THE CHALLENGES SIMPLY TO GET PEOPLE TO SUBSCRIBE TO HIGH-SPEED INTERNET SERVICES?

Munns: YOU KNOW, THAT'S A CHICKEN-IN-AN-EGG KIND OF ISSUE, BECAUSE YOU CAN'T SUBSCRIBE TO IT UNTIL YOU GET IT TAKEN OUT THERE. AND EARLY ON I THINK SUBSCRIBER RATES WERE FAIRLY LOW, BUT WE'RE GETTING TO A POINT -- AND THEY'RE COMING OUT WITH A NEW SYSTEM CALLED VOICE-OVER-INTERNET PROTOCOL, WHICH DOES RIDE ON THE BROADBAND NETWORK, WHERE VOICE AND ALL KINDS OF SERVICES WILL BE PROVIDED OVER THAT. AND FOR ALL IOWANS TO TAKE PART IN THAT NEW REVOLUTION ON SERVICE AVAILABILITY AND DIFFERENT APPLICATIONS, YOU KNOW, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO HAVE THE PIPE OUT THERE TO GET IT DELIVERED.

Yepsen: SPEAKING OF PIPES, THE STATE OF IOWA HAS BUILT SOMETHING CALLED THE IOWA COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK, AND IT'S A FIBER OPTIC NETWORK THAT SERVICES GOVERNMENT ENTITIES AND SCHOOLS. IT'S BEEN VERY CONTROVERSIAL. THE QUESTION NOW IN FRONT OF POLICYMAKERS IS WHAT DO WE DO WITH IT. CAN THE ICN BE DEVELOPED IN SUCH A WAY TO MAKE BROADBAND ACCESS MORE AVAILABLE TO MORE PEOPLE IN IOWA, OR WOULD THAT COMPETE WITH PRIVATE BUSINESS?

Munns: WELL, I THINK YOU JUST PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHAT THE TENSION HAS BEEN IN TAKING THAT OUT THERE. YOU KNOW, WE HAVE -- WE HAVE MORE TELEPHONE COMPANIES THAN ANY STATE IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. WE HAVE SUBSTANTIALLY MORE AND YOU WANT THEM ALL TO BE HEALTHY. AND I DON'T THINK THAT ANY OF THEM OBJECT TO COMPETITION, BUT THEY ARE CONCERNED ABOUT STATE-OWNED COMPETITION FOR SERVICE, YOU KNOW, FOR THE SERVICES THAT THEY SELL. SO I THINK IF IT CAN BE DONE IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU CAN USE THOSE FACILITIES -- AND THEY'RE OUT THERE -- BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT IN CONJUNCTION WITH THOSE THAT ARE OUT THERE ALREADY.

Yepsen: HOW WELL ARE IOWA'S LARGE TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES SERVING THE STATE? YOU KNOW, WE HEAR STORIES AND WE SAW SOME IN THE SET-UP PIECES FOR OUR PROGRAM THIS EVENING. SMALL TELEPHONE COMPANIES WILL IN FACT LOSE MONEY TO GO OUT AND HELP SOMEBODY GET A BROADBAND SO THEY CAN START A BUSINESS. BUT YOU GET IN IOWA'S LARGER COMMUNITIES WITH THE LARGER CARRIERS, AND THEY WON'T DO THAT. THERE ARE NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE SUBURBS THAT DON'T HAVE THE SAME HIGH-SPEED ACCESS THAT RURAL IOWANS DO. WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THAT?

Munns: THE FIRST THING I WANT TO SAY ABOUT THAT IS THAT THE WAY COMPENSATION TO THESE COMPANIES IS SET UP AND HAS BEEN SET UP OVER THE YEARS, IT'S PRETTY COMPLICATED. YOU KNOW, THE LITTLE COMPANIES RECEIVE MONEY FROM PLACES THAT THE BIG COMPANIES DON'T RECEIVE MONEY FROM, AND YOU NEED TO REALLY UNDERSTAND THAT. I DON'T THINK THAT IT'S A MATTER OF THE BIG COMPANIES NOT WANTING TO OR THE PROFIT. THEY SERVE IN A NUMBER OF STATES, AND THEY'RE LOOKING AT, YOU KNOW, THE MARKETS AND WHERE THEY CAN GET THE BEST BANG FOR THEIR BUCK. AND YOU GET DOWN TO SOME OF THESE RURAL COMMUNITIES -- AND YOU TALKED ABOUT THE TAKE RATE -- YOU KNOW, THEY'RE NOT BEING INCENTED TO GO OUT THERE, AND THEY HAVE SHAREHOLDERS THAT THEY NEED TO ANSWER TO. SO I DON'T THINK THERE'S -- IT'S A MATTER OF BAD MOTIVES OR ANYTHING. I THINK IF WE WANT THEM TO COME, WE NEED TO WORK WITH THEM AND HELP HIM -- HELP THEM TO BRING THOSE COMMUNITIES UP ON THE LIST.

Yepsen: WE'VE GOT JUST ABOUT TWENTY SECONDS LEFT, AND I WANT TO ASK A QUESTION. WHAT CAN INDIVIDUALS DO? AN INDIVIDUAL IOWAN WATCHING THIS PROGRAM, WHAT CAN THEY DO DEVELOP WIND ENERGY, TO FOSTER BROADBAND TECHNOLOGY? ANYTHING?

Munns: YEAH, THIS IS A REALLY GOOD QUESTION. WITH BROADBAND, THEY CAN COME TOGETHER. IF THEY LIVE IN A TOWN THAT'S NOT SERVED, THEY NEED TO GO TO THEIR PROVIDER AND SAY, "WE WANT THIS, LET'S WORK TOGETHER TO FIGURE OUT COOPERATIVE WAYS TO BRING IT." WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT RENEWABLES --

Yepsen: I'M SORRY, WE'RE OUT OF TIME. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR BEING WITH US. I APPRECIATE IT.

Munns: THANKS.

Yepsen: NOW, AS INDICATED FROM THE OUTSET, THIS EVENING'S PROGRAM IS THE FIRST IN A WEEK-LONG SERIES HERE ON IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION. THE SERIES CONCLUDES ON FRIDAY WHEN A DIVERSE GROUP OF LEADERS WILL MEET TO "IMAGINE IOWA." TODD MUNDT WILL CONVENE A NINE-MEMBER BLUE RIBBON PANEL, AND WE INVITE YOU TO JOIN US AS WELL. NOW, TOMORROW EVENING WE CONTINUE OUR SERIES. WE'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO A LIVELY DISCUSSION WITH ONE OF IOWA'S BETTER-KNOWN MOVERS AND SHAKERS, MICHAEL GARTNER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NBC NEWS AND CURRENT OWNER OF THE IOWA CUBS BASEBALL FRANCHISE. HE'S MORE RECENTLY MADE HIS MARK IN IOWA AS HEAD OF THE VISION IOWA PROGRAM. MICHAEL GARTNER ON "IMAGINE IOWA: A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID YEPSEN," TOMORROW EVENING AT 6:30. I HOPE YOU'LL BE JOINING US AT THAT TIME. THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US TODAY. I'M DAVID YEPSEN OF "THE DES MOINES REGISTER."

CAPTIONS BY: MIDWEST CAPTIONING DES MOINES, IOWA


Tags: future Iowa