APNewsBreak: Iowa agency abruptly fires leader of state energy office, stunning colleagues

IndustriesAssociated Press

A top expert on energy policy was abruptly fired from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's administration, stunning colleagues who call her a national leader in the field.

Paritosh Kasotia, the team lead in the state energy office, was informed of her ouster Dec. 8 and stopped working the same day, Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority, confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Kasotia was given two weeks' pay and left the payroll Dec. 23.

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Colleagues say Kasotia was not given an explanation for the termination, which came days after she returned from a national conference. An expert on alternative energy and energy efficiency, Kasotia oversaw tens of millions of dollars in funding for state and federal programs during her five-year state tenure.

"I am sorely disappointed that she was let go," said former colleague Bob Mulqueen, now a lobbyist in Des Moines. "It's a shame that somebody with that kind of record of being involved in state energy policy and capability was suddenly on the street."

Mulqueen worked with Kasotia in the Office of Energy Independence near the end of Democratic Gov. Chet Culver's administration. Kasotia oversaw grants awarded under the $71 million Iowa Power Fund, which supported research and development in areas such as wind, solar and ethanol.

After Branstad defeated Culver, the new governor started winding down the power fund, restructured and renamed the energy office and transferred it to the economic development agency. Kasotia was named its team leader, an at-will position. Kasotia, 32, also became active in the National Association of State Energy Officials and served on the advisory council of the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University.

Gary Steinke, who served with Kasotia on the advisory council, called her a "national leader in alternative energy."

"My reaction is that I'm shocked and disappointed," said Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "She brought a wealth of knowledge and information to the advisory council and she will be sorely missed."

Last year, Kasotia helped land a competitive $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make Iowa a leader in solar energy. Environmentalists said the grant would cut costs and regulations to speed solar adoption. Branstad had written a letter in support. But state officials ended up giving up the grant after utility lobbyists complained they had not been consulted and objected to the grant's scope.

The move was seen as an embarrassment to the energy office, which started meeting routinely with representatives from utilities such as Alliant Energy and MidAmerican to get input on grant applications.

Hoffman, the agency spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the reason for Kasotia's termination, calling it a confidential personnel matter.

"What I can say is that it's our responsibility to make those decisions and to do what we think is the right course of action. That's what we've done in this situation," she said. "We are committed to making sure that we have a strong leader for that division going forward and moving those initiatives that are important to our state forward."

She said the agency expects to post and fill the opening soon.