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Alternative Energy Still Alive At U. Iowa

This story was written by Katie Hanson, The Daily Iowan

Jerald Schnoor's vision of the future is tinted green.

The University of Iowa Civil and Environmental Engineering professor believes Barack Obama's administration will initiate unprecedented activity in alternative energy.

"I think Obama should have a New Green Deal - like the New Deal, but moving towards renewable energy," Schnoor said.

Obama's proposed policy includes encouraging energy efficiency, developing hybrid cars, and reducing greenhouse emissions.

Despite a ballooning credit crisis and plummeting gas costs, Schnoor's hopes will not likely be shattered. Those factors cooled investor support for alternative energy research in the 1980s, but voices calling for progress in the field are more urgent than they were two decades ago.

A recent post-election poll from the Environmental Defense Fund revealed more than 75 percent of Americans want the government to concentrate on global warming, a phenomenon renewable energies could lessen. And Obama has promised he'll invest in the green sector, despite the shaky economy.

Some UI economics professors said while Obama will fund research in renewable fuels, it won't be his main focus.

"The administration needs to get the credit crisis addressed. It's the biggest issue in front of us," said Charles Whiteman, associate dean of the UI Tippie College of Business. He added while some programs will be put on hold, funding for alternative energy is a "small drop in the bucket" in terms of the federal budget and won't be particularly affected.

UI Economics Associate Professor John Solow agreed, saying funding for research will remain a high priority even with bigger issues on the table.

"If the government wants to put more money into the Department of Energy so they can issue more grants for alternative energy researchers, they are perfectly capable of doing that," Solow said.

On the other hand, cleaner energy in the auto industry may witness a slowdown, the professors said.

American automakers are barely able to stay afloat, much less invest in more fuel-efficient vehicles. The chilly environment, coupled with falling gas prices, may discourage investors from buying more hybrid vehicles, Solow said.

"The pressure to buy a small car is less, but given the economy, people are holding off on getting a new car," Solow said. "It's not that most people don't have money but people will think about whether this is the best way to spend their money."

But Whiteman said buying a fuel-efficient or hybrid car is still a good investment for some.

"It's not like we're going to live with $2 gasoline," Whiteman said, and in any case, "the U.S. auto industry has to adapt to the market better."

Schnoor said auto companies have ignored cleaner fuels for too long and the government should not simply write American automakers a blank check if it does provide federal support.

"If we're going to bail out General Motors and Ford, we should require them to become more competitive with hybrid cars," said Schnoor, who said he thought new "green-collar jobs" will stimulate, rather than exacerbate, the economy.

"Investing in the new economy of wind turbines, energy grids, and hybrid cars is a way to increase jobs," Schnoor said. "It should be the highest priority of where we should invest our money."

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