UI reminds students to “Power Down” over break


A flyer for the University of Iowa’s Power Down campaign. Download here.
KC McGinnis | December 17, 2014

With thousands of students and faculty finishing up the Fall semester, the University of Iowa is reminding the UI community to “Power Down and Unplug Over Break.”

The UI Office of Sustainability has forwarded a checklist to remind students, faculty and staff what electrical items need to be unplugged over winter break in order to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. Appliances like microwaves, LCD screens, printers and small refrigerators can use up substantial energy even when turned off, adding unnecessary expenses and increasing carbon emissions from power plants. The UI recommends these appliances and devices be unplugged, rather than turned off, whenever possible.

The UI also recommends turning down the heat over break, listing tips for cutting down on energy use, like opening south-facing blinds during the day. Doors and windows should remain closed whenever possible, and fume hood sashes in labs should be closed as well. Even power strips should be unplugged, since they can draw energy even when turned off or with nothing plugged into them.

Those who complete the UI’s power down checklist will be entered in a drawing to win LED flashlights.

For a helpful table showing how much energy various appliances use in power save mode, click here.

New ozone emission standards on the horizon


Extreme smog over Los Angeles from a 1995 archive photo. (Metro Library/Flickr)
Extreme smog over Los Angeles, as seen in an archival photo from 1995. (Metro Library and Archive/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | November 26, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set today to release a draft proposal that could dramatically reduce ozone emissions from power plants and other sources by 2015.

At the stratospheric level, ozone acts as an important natural filter, blocking out the sun’s ultraviolet rays. At the ground level, however, ozone released from power plants is the main component of smog, a pervasive problem in urban areas that can lead to asthma and other serious pulmonary conditions. The new proposal would lower how much of this ground-level ozone is considered healthy to breathe.

The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee earlier this year recommended ozone levels be reduced to as low as 60 parts per billion, down from the current standard of 75 ppb set in 2008 under the Bush administration. This would require power plants to implement new strategies and technologies that could accommodate those standards, leading one business group to call it “the most expensive regulation ever imposed.”

The EPA committee, however, argues that the health benefits from the measures would lead to economic benefits that would offset the costs of implementation. These benefits include increased productivity due to reduced morbidity and mortality from pulmonary conditions caused by smog and pollution. The American Lung Association supports the ozone-lowering measures recommended by the EPA, citing the gas as “the most widespread air pollutant,” with effects ranging from coughing and wheezing to low birth weight in newborns.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must issue a new ozone proposal by next week, which environmental groups hope will be as strong as the one Obama struck down in 2011, just before the 2012 presidential election. A 60 ppb ozone standard, or a more likely standard in the 65-70 ppb range, would be a significant step toward reducing ground-level ozone to what scientists view as a healthier, more sustainable level.

On the Radio: Water demand strains Jordan Aquifer


Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at recent news surrounding Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Jordan Aquifer

Increased water demand in Iowa is straining one of the state’s largest underground aquifers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Des Moines Register reports that the Jordan Aquifer – which supplies about half a million Iowans with water – is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself.

Last year Iowa drew nearly 26 billion gallons from the aquifer which is a 72 percent increase since the 1970s. Nearly 200 businesses, municipalities, universities, and other entities tap into the Jordan Aquifer with about 345 wells across the state. Parts of southwest Iowa need to drill as deep as 2,500 feet underground to extract water from the aquifer.

This increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuels industry, which requires large quantities of purified water during the production process. Roughly 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production with some facilities using as much as 200 million gallons of water each year.

For more information about the Jordan Aquifer and water use in Iowa visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom talks environment, agriculture


Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom presented for the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition on Lecture Series at the Iowa Memorial Union on Thursday, November 20. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom presented for the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Lecture Series at the Iowa Memorial Union on Thursday, November 20. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | November 21, 2014

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom discussed environmental issues affecting Iowans as part of the montly University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Lecture Series Thurday night in the Iowa Memorial Union.

Bolkcom – who also serves as the Outreach and Community Education Director for the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research as well as the Iowa Flood Center – highlighted issues that farmers face with climate change in a state where agriculture drives the local economy.

“Keeping soil where it is is one of our top, if not our top challenge economically, water quality wise, and to address climate,” Bolkcom said.

By “keeping our soil” he is referred to runoff of topsoil which has been exacerbated by extreme weather events. Topsoil runoff and poor fertilizer application practices has also lead to increased pollution in Iowa waterways.

“The challenge for Iowa is we haven’t had the resources and when we have had the resources, we’ve not made the investments,” he said “If you want ag producers to do more conservation we have to come up with some more resources.”

Bolkcom said the state appropriated $4 million this year for resources to address topsoil runoff though more money will likely be necessary to fully correct the issue. He said the state legislature recently changed the state constitution so that next time there is a sale tax increase, three-eighths of a cent would go toward a fund to address environmental issues. Roughly 70 percent of Iowans expressed support for this environmental protection fund which is expected to generate about $150 million per year. Even though the state has not yet raised the three-eighths of a cent, Bolkcom said it would be a “game-changing investment.”

“It would create a bunch of jobs and it would start the work of cleaning up Iowa’s rivers, lakes, [and] streams,” he said. “It would start the work of putting together the kind of infrastructure on farms that we need because it’s going to take 10 or 20 years and our work’s never done.”

In addition to environmental issues affecting farmers, Bolkcom also discussed renewable energy.

“On the mitigation side its about trying to think about ways to produce energy more efficiently and in environmentally sound ways,” he said.

The wind energy industry is strong in Iowa and there has been a recent increase in solar energy as well. However Bolkcom said more can be done to embrace solar energy in the Hawkeye State.

“We’re kind of behind a number of other states. We’re behind a bunch of other countries in terms of the implementation of more solar technology,” he said.

Currently there are tax credits available at both the state and federal level to help businesses and individuals subsidize the cost for installing solar panels. The federal tax credit covers 30 percent of the cost while the state credit is 15 percent. However the federal credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016. Bolkcom said at this point its unclear whether the federal credit will be extended beyond 2016 which also leaves the future of the state-level credit uncertain.

“It’s not clear. Will the federal credits be extended? Don’t know. Can Iowa extend its credit in the absence of a federal credit? Yes, it would just be worth less money if it’s just Iowa’s credit but it might still be worth doing” he said, adding that this past year funding was boosted by $3 million.

Bolkcom concluded his lecture by returning to the topic of climate change. He said further focus on and acceptance of the effects of climate change are crucial for the future of Iowa.

“We’ve had this kind of debate where 50 percent of the time is for the 98 scientists that say we’ve got a big problem on our hands and 50 percent of the time to the two scientists that say no we don’t. So I’m fatigued by that and it’s time to move on.”

For more information about Thursday night’s lecture check out The Daily Iowan.

NASA graphic paints vivid picture of carbon dioxide’s movement through the atmosphere


Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.
Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.

A new, high-resolution computer model from NASA offers a stunning view of how carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas released through human activity, moves through Earth’s atmosphere.

The video (below) shows plumes of gas swirling from concentrated sources through the rest of the atmosphere as winds disperse them. What’s interesting to note is the visible differences in distribution between industrialized areas in the northern hemisphere and those further south. Carbon dioxide is emitted mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

The NASA model is the first to simulate carbon dioxide measurements in such high definition. In addition to ground-based carbon-release measurements, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in July to make even more detailed, space-based observations. While scientists have plenty of data about the levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere (the gas’s concentration exceeded 400 parts per million across most of the northern hemisphere for the first time in modern history this year), relatively little is known about the paths carbon dioxide takes as moves from source to the atmosphere and to absorption points in forests and oceans.

The visualization was produced by an advanced computer model called GEOS-5, which simulated the behavior of Earth’s atmosphere based on measurements of carbon dioxide and other gases from May 2005 to June 2007.

On the Radio: New energy efficiency standards for refrigerators


A woman grabs groceries from her refrigerator. (Illustration: Michelle Tribe / Creative Commons)
A woman grabs groceries from her refrigerator. (Illustration: Michelle Tribe / Creative Commons)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at new standards for refrigerators which could reduce energy consumption by up to 25 percent. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Refrigerator standards

New energy efficiency standards that went into place for refrigerators in September are expected to save customers on utility bills while also reducing their carbon footprint.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Department of Energy estimates that the standards will reduce refrigerator energy consumption by 20 to 25 percent. This is expected to save households up to 200 dollars on electricity bills annually. This is the first update to energy standards for refrigerators since 2001.

Long-term estimates from the Department of Energy show that over the next 30 years the new standards will reduce national energy consumption the equivalent of five percent of total energy used in the U.S. in a single year. It is also estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 344 million tons during the same period.

For more information about the new refrigerator standards and appliance rebates from Iowa utility companies, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-15/pdf/2011-22329.pdf
http://www.appliance-standards.org/blog/how-your-refrigerator-has-kept-its-cool-over-40-years-efficiency-improvements
http://thehill.com/regulation/217600-green-groups-cheer-new-refrigerator-standards
http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-your-homes-energy-use
http://www.midamericanenergy.com/ee/include/pdf/ia_res_reference_sheet.pdf
http://www.ilec.coop/aspx/Products.aspx?ProductID=83
http://www.easterniowa.com/energy-efficiency/rebates
https://www.blackhillsenergy.com/save-money-energy/rebate-information

Eastern Iowa cooperative named national leader in solar energy


A map of solar power concentration across the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
A map of solar power concentration across the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | November 6, 2014

Iowa has been known as a national leader in wind energy and the Hawkeye State may now be on its way to being a leader in solar energy as well.

A recent report by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) touts the Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona as one of the nation’s leaders in solar energy. The 650-member utility provider “has become a model for simple, hands-on business programs that have made 20 percent of its members solar owners.”  The report states that co-op members who install solar panels on their homes and farms are eligible for a “a feed-in-tariff for self-generation or [they can] opt for an up-front rebate based on the size of their systems.”

Farmers Electric has also set a goal for reducing its use of fossil fuels 25 percent by 2025. The Green Power Program allows members to pay an extra $3 on monthly utility bills and the money is used to purchase biodiesel to fuel backup generators. Additionally, the company has provided solar energy panels for area schools including the Iowa Mennonite School as well as Washington Township Elementary School.

The cooperative opened the state’s largest solar farm over the summer which includes approximately 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This event garnered attention from local, state, and even national media outlets.

Last month, Farmers Electric Cooperative general manager Warren McKenna was named Utility CEO of the Year by SEPA.