New Iowa solar bill looks to benefit municipal utilities, rural electric cooperatives


The sun sets over a field in Mount Vernon. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)
The sun sets over a field in Mount Vernon. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 1, 2015

Last week Iowa governor Terry Branstad signed a bill that will likely create more opportunities for solar energy in the Hawkeye State.

House File 645 will allow for increased solar energy tax credits in the state and also add production tax credits for utility solar projects. The bill was passed by the Iowa House 88-4 before being approved 49-1 by the Senate. Branstad signed the bill on June 26.

The credit applies to solar arrays of less than 1.5 MW of capacity, meaning it is more likely to benefit municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives as opposed to investor-owned utility companies. The bill also increases the pool of tax credit funds from $4.5 million to $5 million.

“That’s good for the environment and our economy. Solar energy is already working for thousands of businesses, farmers and homeowners across our state,” Iowa Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) said in a statement. In a recent guest column in the Iowa Daily Democrat, Hogg outlined the need for more emphasis on clean energy in Iowa and abroad.

Along with the solar energy bill, Branstad signed four others. The governor currently has 14 bills from the 2015 legislative session awaiting his approval. The deadline for signing these bills is July 15.

Environmentally-friendly dam modification proves to be a recreational boom for Manchester


Unpassable dams like this one along the Maquoketa River are being revamped to create aquatic attractions (Matthew Hoelscher/Flickr)
Unpassable dams like this one along the Maquoketa River are being revamped to create aquatic attractions (Matthew Hoelscher/Flickr)

The removal and modification of an obsolete low-head dam in Manchester is proving to be a big hit for the community.

Manchester is now home to the state’s largest white-water course, which runs through the Maquoketa River right through downtown. The 800-foot white water course with six moderate, tubing and kayak-friendly drops has attracted hundreds of visitors from around the country since its official opening in mid June. Charles City and Elkader have also completed similar white-water projects from derelict dams.

Rock arch rapids like Manchester’s simulate natural rapids using re-engineered or modified low-head dams, many of which have deteriorated over time and were previously not passable for aquatic life, canoes and kayaks. In addition to becoming new destinations for kayaks and canoes, these projects also remove barriers to fish migration and improve recreational safety. The projects may prevent tragedies like a tubing accident at a low-head dam that claimed one life in the summer of 2014.

The Iowa Legislature recently increased its annual budget for small-scale dam removal and water trails to $2 million, according to a recent report in The Gazette. Manchester’s white-water rapids, which have brought in visitors from other cities and other states, may prove to be a model for future projects that wish to combine environmental sustainability with economic development.

 

On the Radio: Climate statement addresses public health


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Des Moines University Professor Yogi Shah addresses media during the release of the Iowa Climate Statement 2015.

 

June 29, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks ways the Iowa Climate Statement 2015 highlighted public health issues related to climate change. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Climate Statement and Public Health

SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCHERS IN IOWA HOPE TO USE THE STATE’S ROLE AS THE FIRST IN THE NATION CAUCUS TO BRING PUBLIC HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE INTO THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

THE FIFTH ANNUAL STATEMENT ENCOURAGES IOWANS TO ASK PRESIDENTAL HOPEFULS HOW THEY PLAN TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE WHILE ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN IOWA. DES MOINES UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR YOGI SHAH CITED SEVERAL PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS AFFECTING IOWANS INCLUDING INCREASED FLOODING, INCREASED RATES OF INSECT-BORNE DISEASES, AS WELL AS INCREASED ALLERGEN RATES AND A LONGER ALLERGEN SEASON.

YOGI SHAH: “Because of increased CO2 in the air, the ragweeds, the poisons, the proteins are stronger and causing more allergies. So that way we are seeing longer seasons. In Iowa itself, shown by national studies, we have 19 extra days of allergies which we didn’t see a few years ago.”

188 SCIENTISTS FROM 39 COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES SIGNED ‘IOWA CLIMATE STATEMENT 2015: TIME FOR ACTION.’

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE STATEMENT, VISIT IOWAENVIRONMENTALFOCUS.ORG

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

Branstad questions EPA’s new Renewable Fuel Standard


Iowa governor Terry Branstad at a 2011 event in Des Moines. (Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad at a 2011 event in Des Moines. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 26, 2015

During a public hearing of EPA’s new Renewable Fuel Standard in Kansas City on Thursday, Iowa governor Terry Branstad questioned the new policy and the economic impact it will have on the Hawkeye State.

Nearly 300 people made statements during the public event which will be the only one EPA plans to host before a final decision is made in November. Brandstad and other supporters of the current fuel standard feel that it is necessary “to force oil companies to improve infrastructure at gas pumps to deliver ethanol fuel blends above the current 10 percent mix.”

“The EPA has a choice: protect the deep pockets of Big Oil and their monopolistic practices or nurture consumer choice, renewable energy growth and a healthy rural economy,” Branstad said.

The proposed plan, which was set by congress, calls for a reduction of 4 billion gallons this year and an additional 5 billion gallons in 2016. Branstad cited the financial impacts the proposal would have on Iowa’s economy pointing out that corn has gone from $6 per bushel in August 2013 to $3.45 per bushel currently. He said this has caused uncertainty in the market and has led to fewer investments in biofuel technologies.

Proponents of the new standard say that it would increase overall biofuel production and use over time. Officials from the oil industry also argue that retailers are not equipped to sell gasoline with ethanol levels greater than 10 percent and that customer demand has not warranted an investment in new infrastructure.

Other have questioned the feasibility of biofuels altogether, citing that production requires large amounts of water and other resources.

Iowa leads the nation biofuel production with 42 ethanol plants and 13 biodiesel plants.

Poll: Energy production a major factor for Iowans in upcoming election


An arctic drilling vessel off the coast of northern Alaska. (Kevan Dee/Flickr)
An arctic drilling vessel off the coast of northern Alaska. (Kevan Dee/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 25, 2015

More than 80 percent of Iowa voters consider energy policy to be a major factor for selecting candidates in the upcoming presidential election, according to a recent poll.

The poll was conducted by the Consumer Energy Alliance in April 2015 and surveyed 500 registered Iowa voters via telephone interviews. Interviewees were asked questions ranging from what presidential candidate they most support to specific questions regarding energy production for the United States.

The poll concluded that 52 percent of Iowans surveyed supported offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in U.S. waters within the Arctic Circle, compared to 32 percent who opposed it. The findings differed along political lines as 74 percent of republicans support arctic drilling (compared to 10 percent who opposed it) while 49 percent of democrats opposed it (and 34 percent supported it). Forty-eight percent of non-partisan voters also supported arctic drilling and 38 percent opposed it.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finds that “the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf has about 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — or about 13 percent of its undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas.” The National Petroleum Council – a division of the U.S. Department of Energy – says that utilizing resources available in the arctic circle will lead to domestic job creation and billions of dollars in revenue, while also contributing to domestic energy production and lowering consumer costs.

The poll also asked likely Iowan caucus-goers about their preference for presidential candidates with a clear majority of democrats supporting Hilary Clinton (64 percent) while Rand Raul (13 percent), Jeb Bush (11 percent), and Scott Walker (11 percent) were the front-runners on the republican side.

Similar polls have been conducted in New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

ISU professor establishes professional network for environmental justice


Iowa State University landscape architecture students work on an andoor classroom project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. (Bob Elbert/Iowa State University News Service)

Nick Fetty | June 24, 2015

A landscape architecture professor at Iowa State University has established a professional network that she hopes will provide the public with more access to outdoor spaces.

Julie Stevens, an assistant professor in ISU’s College of Design, co-chairs the American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN). The concept for establishing such a network came up during the ASLA’s annual meeting last fall.

“For me, environmental justice just means everybody has access to healthy outdoor spaces,” Stevens said in an interview with the Ames Tribune. “And the spaces where we live and work and play, no matter who you are or what your socioeconomic status is or where you live, everybody has a healthy place.”

In 2013, Stevens and a group of landscape architecture students began work on an outdoor classroom project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, utilizing feedback from inmates on what to include in the design.

“You wouldn’t find another internship that includes working with the demographic of offenders. It’s an experience hardly anyone else will have,” said Lauren Iversen, a senior who worked on the project last summer.

Stevens said she hopes the PPN will expand to include outreach programs at area schools. For more information about the Environmental Justice PPN, check out the group’s LinkedIn page.

A bird’s eye view of the plans for an outdoor space at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. (Tim Buescher/Iowa State University News Service)

On the Radio: Iowa scientists urge politicians to address climate change


Drake University professor of environment science and policy David Courard-Hauri addresses the press during the release of the Iowa Climate Statement 2015 - Time for Action on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Drake University professor of environment science and policy David Courard-Hauri addresses the press during the release of the Iowa Climate Statement 2015 – Time for Action on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
June 22, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at the “Iowa Climate Statement 2015 – Time for Action,” which calls Iowa voters to ask politicians and presidential candidates key questions on climate change. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Climate Statement 2015 – Politics

IOWA SCIENCETISTS AND RESEARCHERS HOPE TO USE IOWA’S ROLE AS THE FIRST IN THE NATION CAUCUS TO BRING ATTENTION TO CLIMATE ISSUES DURING THE 2016 PRESIDENTAL ELECTION.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

“IOWA CLIMATE STATEMENT 2015 – TIME FOR ACTION” WAS UNVEILED DURING A PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE STATEHOUSE IN MAY. THE FIFTH ANNUAL STATEMENT WAS SIGNED BY 188 SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCHERS FROM 39 COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES. DAVID COURARD-HAURI – ONE OF THE STATEMENT’S LEAD AUTHORS – SAID ISSSUES REGARDING CLMIATE CHANGE HAVE BEEN IGNORED BY POLITICIANS FROM BOTH PARITIES:

“This is unacceptable and we’re calling on voters in the state and members of the press who are interviewing candidates or asking questions in debates to make sure that anyone who wants to be president has the opportunity to spell out clearly for voters how they will deal with the most critical of issues.”

THE AUTHORS OUTLINED SEVERAL ISSUES FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO ADDRESS INCLUDING REGULATIONS ON CARBON EMISSIONS FROM POWER PLANTS, ENERGY CONSERVATION, AND THE FUTURE OF THE PRODUCTION TAX CREDIT FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECTS.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT IOWA CLIMATE STATEMENT 2015, VISIT IOWAENVIRONMENTALFOCUS.ORG.

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I M JERRY SCHNOOR.