Iowa Utilities Board chairwoman defends withholding funds

But Huser says energy center decision may not have been the wisest

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DES MOINES — The chairwoman of the Iowa Utilities Board defended temporarily withholding funds from the Iowa Energy Center but told legislators Tuesday it may not have been her best decision.

Geri Huser, a former Democratic member of the Iowa House, told the Senate Commerce Committee that in November she withheld $4.4 million in funds because she thought the center at Iowa State University should have external audits completed on projects that it funded with utility ratepayers’ money. An additional $772,000 was withheld from the University of Iowa Energy Center

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who raised the issue, questioned whether Huser’s roles as Iowa Utilities Board chairwoman and a member of the center’s 13-member advisory board were in conflict.

At the time, critics of withholding the funds said Huser violated state law and overstepped her authority. They also charged she jeopardized the center, which promotes solar, wind and biomass energy.

She said she didn’t realize the center might have to shut its doors without the funds that are generated through a 0.1 percent assessment on annual operating revenues of gas and electric utilities. State law calls for the money to be transferred to the Energy Center, but doesn’t say when.

Before the end of the month, she released the funds.

In retrospect, withholding funds “probably wasn’t the brightest decision I ever made,” Huser said. However, she thought more oversight was needed on the use of what McCoy agreed was “the public’s money.”

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