Study: Urban planning can reduce city’s energy usage by 25%


Des Moines is the most populous city in Iowa with 203,433 residents according to the 2010 Census (Jason Mrachina/Flickr)
Des Moines is the most populous city in Iowa with 203,433 residents according to the 2010 Census (Jason Mrachina/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 30, 2015

A study released earlier this month found that efficient urban planning and more emphasis on public transportation can help cities to reduce energy usage by about 25 percent.

The study – which was conducted by researchers from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Yale University, and the University of Maryland – examined 274 cities around the globe and concluded that if sustainable development and infrastructure is not implemented, the world’s energy usage will triple by 2050. Sustainable development is most important in the Middle East, China, and Africa where populations are expected to rise at the fastest rate.

The researchers also pointed to findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which found that cities consume 76 percent of the world’s energy and are responsible for approximately three-quarters of global CO2 emissions.

The study’s authors conclude:

“The results show that, for affluent and mature cities, higher gasoline prices combined with compact urban form can result in savings in both residential and transport energy use. In contrast, for developing-country cities with emerging or nascent infrastructures, compact urban form, and transport planning can encourage higher population densities and subsequently avoid lock-in of high carbon emission patterns for travel. The results underscore a significant potential urbanization wedge for reducing energy use in rapidly urbanizing Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.”

According to the 2010 Census more than 80 percent of the U.S. population live in urban areas while more than half of the world population lives in cities, a number that is expected to rise to 66 percent by 2050.

 

$48 million donation aims to assist states with reducing emissions


Emissions billow from the smokestacks of a facility in Heilbronn, Germany (dmytrok/Flickr)
Emissions billow from the smokestacks of a facility in Heilbronn, Germany (dmytrok/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 23, 2015

Two charitable groups have donated $48 million so that in can be used in helping states reduce carbon emissions over the next three years.

The plans were announced earlier this week with half the money coming from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the other half from the Heising-Simons family, a California couple devoted to reducing the impact of climate change. This project will provide technical assistance, economic forecasting, and legal analysis to a dozen or so states pursuing clean-energy initiatives. The money will not go directly to the states – which are each responsible for developing their own emissions reduction plans – and will instead go to groups like Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council which will advise states on strategies for cutting emissions.

“The science on climate change makes it abundantly clear that carbon pollution poses a deep threat to society, to agriculture, and to nature—and that early action is required to avoid these threats,” Mark Heising said in a press release. “New technologies ensure that the solutions to climate change can be cost-effective.  This initiative is designed to accelerate those solutions.”

The money is expected to be used to help create renewable energy systems which cause less pollution in the land, air, and water and therefore can improve public health. This donation coincides with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan which he announced in June of 2014 and which allows each state to set its own standards for reducing emissions from fossil fuels

Ecopolis Iowa City event focuses on solar energy


Warren McKenna - general manager for Farmers Electric Cooperative - presented during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Warren McKenna – general manager for Farmers Electric Cooperative – presented during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Nick Fetty | January 22, 2015

Nearly 100 local politicians, students, and area residents attended Wednesday night’s Ecolopis Iowa City forum which focused on solar energy.

Iowa City attorney Rockne Cole was the first to speak at event explaining that the group formed about 60 days ago in a coffee shop and has gained quite a following in that time. He described Ecopolis Iowa City as a group of “doers” dedicated to renewable energy and sustainable development in Iowa City.

Warren McKenna – general manager of the Kalona-based Farmers Electric Cooperative – was the first of four presenters to take the podium Wednesday night. McKenna – who was named CEO of Year by the Solar Electric Power Association last year – said that his company has installed $3.6 million in solar systems since 2008, which includes solar arrays at Iowa Mennonite School and Washington Township Elementary. He has traveled from New York to Las Vegas and even as far as Germany to promote solar energy.

Troy Miller –  Director of Power Purchase Agreements for North Liberty-based Moxie Solar – was the next to present.

“Your local government is doing a great job of stepping up and taking the bull by the horns with solar,” he said.

Miller was referring to the Johnson County government which has partnered with Moxie to install solar panels on the roof of the county’s new secondary roads building project. This project makes Johnson County the first county in the state to utilize a Power Purchase Agreement for a solar project. For this project, the county put zero dollars down and agreed to pay a higher rate for electricity over the next ten years. After the first ten years the county will own the system outright and is expected to save $255,000 over a 25 year period.

“This is just one building,” Miller said. “The county has more than one building. That’s the good news.”

Troy Miller - Director of Power Purchase Agreements for Moxie Solar - discussed a recent collaboration between Moxie and the Iowa City Community School District during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Troy Miller – Director of Power Purchase Agreements for Moxie Solar – discussed a recent collaboration between Moxie and the Iowa City Community School District during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Miller also discussed a recent partnership between Moxie Solar and the Iowa City Community School District. He analyzed more than 700 electricity bills at more than 26 school locations to help the district determine its options for installing solar panels at the schools. In addition to helping the schools, Miller said he plans to launch a six-part “Common Cents Solar” webinar series which will individually focus on schools, cities, counties, churches, agriculture, and commercial entities. Miller also encouraged local non-profits to contact him (troy@moxiesolar.com) and send 12 months worth of electricity bills which he will use to conduct a free solar analysis.

Iowa City realtor and developer Kevin Hanick was the last one to present on Wednesday night. Hanick has been practicing real estate in Iowa City for over 30 years but admitted that he knew very little about solar energy until recently.

“I’m a mutt in this whole game but I’m learning,” he said.

Iowa City developer  (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Iowa City developer Kevin Hanick discussed plans for installing rooftop solar panels for an upcoming project during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Hanick discussed a project he is currently working on which will be constructed near the intersection of South Riverside Drive and West Benton Street in Iowa City. The project will recieve tax incriment financing (TIF) which requires that it is constructed with photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftop. The 28,000 square-foot rooftop on the building is expected to fit approximately 700 solar panels.

“It struck me early on we should be constructing an energy efficient project,” he said, adding that he supports the idea of requiring developers to install solar panels on all future TIF-funded projects.

At the end of the event, Hanick was awarded the Tesla Award for Renewable Energy Innovation by the Ecopolis Forum to recognize his efforts.

On Saturday January 24 at noon, Ecopolis Iowa City will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ecopolis Center at 1000 South Dubuque Street. The group will host its next monthly forum at the Iowa City Public Library on Saturday February 21 at 10 a.m. where they will focus specifically on Iowa City’s proposed Riverfront Crossings District.

For more information about Wednesday night’s event, check out this piece by Jeff Biggers for the Huffington Post Green blog.

Bakken pipeline seeks official approval


Pipes to form a pipeline in Williston, North Dakota (Lindsey G / Flickr)
Pipes to form a pipeline in Williston, North Dakota (Lindsey G / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | January 21, 2015

The Texas-based company seeking to build an oil pipeline spanning the state of Iowa has applied for approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, according to the Des Moines Register.

Dakota Access, LLC, a division of Texas company Energy Transfer Partners, is seeking permission to build an underground pipeline that would run from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Ill., where it would then be connected to distribution systems across the country. The application, filed Tuesday, has set the stage for an ongoing battle between oil companies and Iowa farmers and environmental experts.

Among the concerns over the project is the potential for disastrous spills, like one that leaked 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Cities like Glendive, Mo., for which the Yellowstone is the primary water supply, have had to have fresh water hauled in on semi trailers since the accident.

In informational meetings held over the month of December, Iowa farmers spoke out against the pipeline, concerned that the project could not only cut yields but also interfere with drainage systems, as Iowans scramble to tackle the state’s growing agricultural runoff problem.

Not least among these concerns is the pipeline’s significance as a fossil fuel system at a time when Iowa is trying to transition to clean energy. The effects of climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels is expected to more heavily impact Iowa’s agriculture industry over the next few decades.

Oil companies working in the Brakken oil fields are trying to find solutions to the railroad congestion problems caused by the oil surge, leading to a backlog in exports like grains, which share the rails with oil.

On the Radio: Iowa ahead of new smog standards


The Des Moines skyline at dusk (Jason Mrachina / Flickr)
The Des Moines skyline at dusk (Jason Mrachina / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at early assessments of Iowa’s ozone emissions, which suggest that the state is one step ahead of upcoming new emission standards. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Ozone standards

Iowa is one step ahead of new national ozone emission standards.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft proposal to drastically reduce ozone emissions from power plants and other sources by 2025. All 99 of Iowa’s counties are set to meet the new standards, according to data collected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee earlier this year recommended ozone levels be reduced to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, down from the current practice of 75 parts per billion.

Iowa already meets the EPA standards, with monitoring stations showing average ozone levels between 61 and 69 parts per billion. The Iowa DNR supplies data to the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which provides air quality conditions in real time.

For a link to the Air Quality Index, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_city&mapcenter=0&cityid=271
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2014/11/26/epa-ozone-smog-proposal-iowa-counties/19539559/
http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/RegulatoryAir/MonitoringAmbientAir.aspx

On the Radio: Iowans don’t connect wind turbines to health issues


A wind farm in Iowa (4Neus / Flickr)
A wind farm in Iowa (4Neus / Flickr)
January 5, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a study on Iowans’ perceptions of health issues related to wind turbines. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowans reject wind energy health issues

A bi-partisan poll about energy issues found respondents from Iowa were least likely to think that wind turbines create health problems.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

An August poll published by Midwest Energy News interviewed people in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin and found that 14 percent of the nearly 2,500 respondents agreed that wind turbines were causing health problems in their state such as noise pollution and the “flicker effect.” Only 7 percent of Iowans agreed that wind turbines are harmful to public health. Iowa leads the county in proportion of wind energy generated with more than 3,000 turbines across the state.

The poll also found that more than 85 percent supported increased use of solar and wind energy. Support for renewable energy and energy efficiency was consistent across a variety of demographic groups.

For more information about the poll and Iowa wind energy, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.mepartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Re-AMP-2014MidwesternEnergyIssues-MediaRelease-Final.pdf
http://www.mepartnership.org/midwest-voters-support-increasing-energy-efficiency-and-renewable-energy-sources/
http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2014/09/05/survey-midwesterners-not-buying-wind-turbine-syndrome/

Iowa Environmental Focus: Best of 2014


(palo/Flickr)
(palo/Flickr)

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look at some of the Iowa Environmental Focus’s most shared and talked-about blog posts of the year. These are the posts that helped spur conversation on important environmental topics in Iowa and around the world. Thanks for your support, and Happy New Year!

Climate and health experts discuss effects of climate change on Iowans – The Iowa Environmental Focus visited the 2014 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum in October, to learn how climate change is affecting Iowa’s air quality, water quality and public health.

Large solar energy project coming to Mitchell county in northern Iowa – This project could be one of the largest in the state, with 1,200 solar panels.

Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans – The 4th annual Iowa Climate Statement was released in October, highlighting the health effects of climate change on Iowans. The blog  took photos and video of the event, which took place at the Des Moines statehouse.

University of Iowa research examines health effects of frac sand mining – A look into the research on the health effects of frac sand mining, or fracking, in Iowa.

MIT engineers discover way to create efficient solar panels using lead recycled from car batteries – The future of solar power could lie in old car batteries, according to engineers at MIT.

Grinnell College blown off course on campus wind energy project  – The Iowa Environmental Focus covered a setback at Grinnell College, where plans for a 5.1-megawatt wind farm were halted in October.

Proposed oil pipeline would run through 17 Iowa counties – An 1,100-mile oil pipeline was proposed to run from Lyon County in the northwest corner of Iowa to Lee County in the southeast.

Ottumwa meat plant is Iowa’s top waterway polluter – A report that showed, among other concerns, that one Iowa meat plant dumped three million pounds of chemicals into the Lower Des Moines River in 2012.

Iowa’s Allamakee county looks to implement nation’s strictest fracking ordinance – In June, the Allamakee County (Iowa) Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to approve what looks to be “the most strict frac sand mining ordinance in the nation.”

Hemp advocates announce 6th Annual Hemp History Week – This event, taking place in 2015, aims to bring attention to hemp as an environmentally sustainable crop with both nutritional and medical uses.