IOWA CITY (AP) — An outgoing member of the Iowa Utilities Board has bluntly told Gov. Terry Branstad in a letter that his decision to remove her is improper and being done to placate a powerful energy company.
Sheila Tipton told the governor in the March 18 letter that his move to replace her and demote board chair Elizabeth Jacobs is an inappropriate attempt to influence future decisions to favor utilities and “appease MidAmerican Energy.” The company had complained about a ruling requiring the company to use some proceeds from a $280 million wind energy investment to reduce customers’ rates.
Tipton, a lawyer who represented MidAmerican and other energy companies in private practice, said the decision was fair to the company and its electric customers. She told Branstad that his board shake up, effective April 30, is a “disservice to the citizens of this state.”
“Administrative agencies, including the Iowa Utilities Board, are intended to be independent and not subject to political pressures or threats of retaliation,” she wrote. “Yet, in replacing me and demoting Chair Jacobs, the message being sent to the board and its staff is to get in line and approve anything that the utilities, particularly MidAmerican, bring to it.”
Branstad has long been a close ally of Des Moines-based MidAmerican, Iowa’s largest energy company and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy. He was named to its board in 1999 after his first stint as governor. Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s PAC and executives have donated more than $120,000 to Branstad since 2010. The governor often praises MidAmerican’s wind energy production, saying it helped convince Facebook and Google to build data centers in Iowa.
Tipton told The Associated Press she hand-delivered the four-page letter to the governor.
Responding to Tipton’s letter, Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the appointment of former lawmaker Geri Huser as chair would improve the board.
“We regret that Ms. Tipton is dissatisfied with the governor’s decision, but believe Ms. Huser will provide exceptional leadership, which will benefit the board and those it serves,” he said.