Report: EPA proposal could lead to lower utility bills for Iowans


(Brendan Wood/Flickr)
(Brendan Wood/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 31, 2015

Two recent studies find that the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to reduce carbon emissions could lead to lower electricity bills for Iowa consumers.

Synapse Energy Economics conducted the first study which examined the projected economic impact of EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The study concluded that participation in energy efficient programs could save the average U.S. household $35 per month on electricity bills by 2030, with even greater savings for Iowa consumers.

“Iowa households taking advantage of energy-efficiency programs under the proposed Clean Power Plan would save $83 a month on average and their bills would be $41 a month in 2030,” principal economist Elizabeth Stanton told the Public News Service.

The other report, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, used modeling to predict that EPA’s plan would lead to lower electricity bills and could also lead to job creation and other economic benefits.

However despite the findings in the two studies, the Spencer Daily Reporter reports that Spencer (Iowa) Municipal Utilities general manager Steve Pick doesn’t expect the plan to have much of an impact on electricity bills for his customers. Pick cited that the two plants which serve Spencer are already up to efficiency standards so the plan wouldn’t change much. Pick added that electricity prices in Spencer are already the lowest in the state and again wouldn’t be affected by EPA’s plan.

The Clean Power Plan is expected to be finalized later this summer.

Midwest researchers come together for research project


Doug Schnoebelen, left, explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Doug Schnoebelen explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. From left, Schnoebelen, Praveen Kumar, Thanos Papanicolaou, and Chris Wilson. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | July 30, 2015

Roughly 30 students, professors, and researchers from six different institutions met in Muscatine this week to discuss a collaborative research effort to improve land, water, and air quality in the Midwest.

This Midwestern project is part of a nation-wide project known as the Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) an effort by the National Science Foundation to “[study] the zone where rock meets life.” The Midwestern project is called the CZO-IML (Intensely Managed Landscapes) and focuses on watersheds and lands in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine hosted the IML-CZO conference which began Tuesday and ends today. This marked the second annual meeting for what will be a five year project.

“The first year was a lot of planning and field campaigns. The second year we’ve collected some data will be able to get that back to look at the results. We finally have some things to discuss, some real science,” said LACMRERS Director Doug Schnoebelen.

Schnoebelen, who also serves as a contributor for the IML-CZO project as well as a member of CGRER, said he hopes this research will be helpful not just for farmers and watershed managers but also for the general public.

“We’re hoping to look at an integrated approach and that’s what the Critical Zone is, being able to say something about water movement, soil conservation, transformation of carbon and energy in the environment. All of these things are really critical to the soil, the water, and the way we live.”

The conference brought together researchers from Indiana University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and University of Tennessee. Schnoebelen said this emphasis on collaboration over competition has been key to the success of the project. He added that he is also grateful the CZO chose to support a Midwestern research project since much of the CZO’s other research takes place on the coasts.

“I think it was important when the national team came out and they realized how managed our landscape was and how important this research really was. It’s not just flyover country in the Midwest, it’s a critical part of our economy for food and energy.”

Iowa City Science Booster Club to host first public event


Science Booster Club - Iowa City - tshirt - V2 with Gradients

Nick Fetty | July 29, 2015

The Iowa City Science Booster Club (ICSBC) will host its first public event this Saturday during the Iowa City Farmers Market.

Saturday’s event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at Chauncey Swan Park in downtown Iowa City. Kids as well as adults will have an opportunity to learn about science through hands-on activities and demonstrations.

” You can play with laser guns to measure surface temperatures, and gas probes that will let you see how C02 and oxygen concentrations change in closed environments. You’ll also have a chance to learn about soil science, local agricultural issues, and local wildlife,” said Emily Schoerning, who leads the ICSBC and also serves as director of community organizing and research for the National Center for Science Education.

The ICSBC aims to improve science education in the area through fundraising and other public outreach efforts. The club is largely modeled off of a similar effort in Sisters, Ore., a town with a population of just over 2,000. Schoerning said the efforts from the Sisters science booster club have led to more funding for area science classrooms as well as higher test scores.

The Iowa City club first launched in April and currently has about 200 members. Members of the group have been working to establish partnerships with area businesses and other agencies such as New Pioneer Co-op and the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History and biology department.

Saturday’s event will also give kids the opportunity to plant seeds and take them home to watch them grow. There will also be t-shirts and buttons for participants whiles supplies last and even a raffle for a laser temperature gun. For Schoerning, who holds PhD in microbiology, the mission of the ICSBC is simple.

“[We want] to help people in our area come together to learn about science and support local science teachers.”

MidAmerican Energy parent to invest $15 billion in renewables


(Don Graham / Flickr)
(Don Graham / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | July 28, 2015

The parent company for MidAmerican Energy has pledged to invest $15 billion in renewable energy construction and operation, in addition to another $15 billion already invested through 2014.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which acquired MidAmerican in 2000, recently joined twelve other behemoth U.S. companies including Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Walmart in the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a partnership that aims to help the Obama administration reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 26-28% by 2025. The pledged investments would help Berkshire Hathaway expand its wind portfolio to 57% of its total retail energy load by 2017.

The company would also expand its investments in solar energy and, perhaps most importantly for Iowans, make infrastructure improvements that would help better integrate renewables into the existing power grid. Elsewhere in the country, Berkshire Hathaway plans to retire 75% of its energy produced from coal in Nevada by 75%.

Several of the companies that signed the pledge Monday have a significant Iowa presence, including Cargill and Google. Google boasts a 35% renewable energy rate for all of its operations, but hopes to reach 100% renewables. Cargill claims 16% energy efficiency gains since 2005, and aims to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from beef production.

On the Radio: Educating Iowans about prairie plant ecosystems


Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. (Rachel Gardner/Flickr)
Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. (Rachel Gardner/Flickr)
July 27, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at outreach efforts by CGRER member Laura Jackson to educate Iowans about prairie plant ecosystems. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Educating Iowans about prairie plant ecosystems

Communicating dense scientific material to the public can be a challenge.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

As part of her responsibilities as the director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa, Laura Jackson takes part in public outreach efforts that aim to educate Iowans about prairie plant ecosystems.

Jackson has partnered with the Living Roadway Trust Fund for the past year on this project. Jackson and her team have displays of root systems in 20 Iowa counties.

Jackson: “So we grow these things in big 10-foot-deep pots in a special growth medium, and fertilize them and water them. Then we preserve them so they can be displayed in education settings. It’s giving us an opportunity to start a conversation about ecosystem processes and what it means to have a diverse perennial root system in the ground as opposed to an annual row cross system.

For more information about Jackson’s efforts, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Iowa companies fined for environmental violations


Nick Fetty | July 24, 2015

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued fines against roughly a dozen Iowa companies for environmental violations.

The announcement was made earlier this month and includes a $10,000 fine for air quality violations against the Mason City-based ethanol production facility Golden Grain Energy LLC. The DNR cites that the company (1) exceeded permitted emission limits and failed to properly maintain required records, (2) failed to properly maintain equipment, (3) failed to continuously operate an emissions monitoring system, and (4) failed to continuously monitor thermal oxidizer temperature. In 2012, the company was fined $5,750 for air quality violations.

Other consent orders issued by the Iowa DNR include a $5,000 fine for Farm Nutrients LLC (Kossoth County) for manure runoff into state waters, a $6,500 fine for Twilight Investments LLC (Fremont County) for manure application violations, $5,575 for Smith Ag Inc. (Mitchell County) for manure discharge violations resulting in a fish kill, $8,000 for M.G. Waldbaum Company (Hancock County) for past permit violations, and $1,000 for Porter Farms, Inc. (Jefferson County) for manure disposal.

A full list of actions taken by the Iowa DNR is available on its website.

Group hopes to use RAGBRAI to restore Iowa’s Monarch populations


Nick Fetty | July 23, 2015

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) kicked off this week and one CGRER member is hoping to use the event as a opportunity restore Monarch butterfly populations in the Hawkeye State.

CGRER founding member David Osterberg and University of Iowa College of Public Health research support specialist Nancy Wyland organized an event last week inviting people to help make milkweed  “seed bombs.” These bombs consist of soil, compost, and milkweed seeds rolled into a ball – roughly the size of a golf ball – which will be distributed to RAGBRAI riders as they make their way through Mount Vernon Friday afternoon.

Riders are encouraged to toss these seed bombs in ditches along roads in Linn and Johnson County to bring back milkweed plants with the hope of restoring Iowa’s Monarch butterfly population. Estimates show a 90 percent decline in Monarch populations over the past 20 years.

Osterberg and his group helped create roughly 600 seed bombs as part of a larger effort spearheaded by Monarchs in Eastern Iowa, a group that aims to store Monarch populations in Eastern Iowa. Last year the group raised and released approximately 1400 butterflies.

Among the riders participating in this effort is Kelly “Milkweed” Guilbeau. The Grinnell resident, who sports a butterfly costume during the ride, first began tossing out seed bombs last year. Guilbeau also manages a blog which focuses on Monarch butterflies.

This year marks the 43rd anniversary of RAGBRAI with approximately 20,000 participants on this year’s ride.