116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Ahead of the highly anticipated — and recently rescheduled — county meetings about proposed solar projects near Palo, residents may have received mail, calls, texts and petition signature requests from a group named Bright Future Iowa.
What is this organization, what are its goals and why is it contacting you?
Bright Future Iowa formed last December as a bipartisan group advocating for solar energy in Iowa, said its co-founders Swati Dandekar and Gentry Collins.
Since its start, it has engaged with residents across the state whose counties are considering solar energy projects.
“We're going to fight for good energy jobs and clean energy for Iowa,” Dandekar said. “Bright Future Iowa is truly focused on Iowa.”
The organization has been highly engaged with Linn County’s recent public meetings about the Coggon solar project, which is on hold while a court resolves a case brought against the supervisors, and the Duane Arnold Solar projects near Palo, which the Linn County Board of Supervisors will vote on this week and next.
The three meetings — today, Tuesday and Sept. 6 — all begin at 6 p.m. at the Palo Community Center, 2800 Hollenbeck Rd.
Bright Future Iowa is reaching out to residents in Linn County via mail and phone to invite them to attend the public hearings — which many people may not be aware about, Collins said.
“As contentious as these hearings can be, the broad majority of residents of Linn County support the solar projects,” Collins said. “We’ve tried to invite as many members of the public (to the public meetings) as possible so that the hearings reflect some of that support.”
According to a public opinion survey Bright Future Iowa commissioned to The Tarrance Group, a self-described Republican strategic research and polling firm, support for solar projects among Linn County voters was at 66 percent.
Bright Future Iowa has garnered more than 4,000 Linn County signatures on a petition supporting solar energy, Dandekar said. She will present 1,000 additional signatures at the first public meeting this evening.
Who are the founders, and who are the funders?
Dandekar previously served three terms as a Democratic state representative. She then completed one term as a state senator until her appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board in 2011, where she remained until 2013.
Collins has served as the executive director and deputy chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. He also has served as the national political director of the Republican Governors Association and national political director of the Republican National Committee.
Dandekar and Collins said they created the bipartisan group because they want Iowa’s future in solar to follow advancements of other clean energy in the state, like wind energy and ethanol.
“How can Iowa continue to be a leader?” Collins said. “One of the answers is that these can't be partisan issues. We've got to do this in a way that brings Republicans, Democrats and independents along.”
While Bright Future Iowa paid for the pro-solar mailed materials, Dandekar and Collins wouldn’t disclose the source of the group’s financial support, saying the donor or donors wish to remain anonymous.
Since Bright Future Iowa is an LLC — a limited liability company — and not a political action committee, nor is it expressly advocating for a candidate or ballot measure, it doesn’t have to disclose its funding sources, said Zach Goodrich, the executive director and legal counsel of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
Why are you getting marketing from Bright Future Iowa?
Linn County residents who signed the organization’s petitions supporting solar energy are on the Bright Future Iowa marketing list, Dandekar said. People who engage with Bright Future Iowa on social media are also sent materials.
But other residents have reported receiving the materials despite never directly interacting with the group.
Collins said it’s unclear how other individuals might have made it onto the marketing lists. Upon building its initial list of recipients, Bright Future Iowa pulled from traffic from other similar clean energy websites — a common marketing method among advocacy groups, he said.
“I'm not sure we can say with confidence how any one individual made the list if those were the general parameters,” he said.
These messages are intended to let solar supporters know about the upcoming public meeting in Linn County and encourage them to attend.
“The big percentage of them — the lion's share — would be people that have expressed their support for solar,” Collins said.
What does Bright Future Iowa believe in?
The Bright Future Iowa organization touts solar energy as a boon for local economies.
Economic development leaders value clean energy portfolios in site selections for new facilities, Collins said, making counties with more green energy more attractive for businesses.
Expanded renewable energy portfolios could bring more manufacturing companies to Iowa, which would bring more local jobs, Dandekar said.
Bright Future Iowa also promotes solar energy as a revenue source for willing farmers to engage with on their land. Farmers could also pair solar panels with agriculture underneath, a practice known as agrivoltaics, Collins said.
“To me, solar is a great win-win-win,” he said.
Brittney J. Miller is an environmental reporter for The Gazette and a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.
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