November U.N. climate conference aims for universal agreement

(Elliot Gilfix/Flickr)
(Elliot Gilfix/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | September 1, 2015

World leaders will gather in Paris this November in hopes of reaching an international agreement on climate change and mitigation standards.

The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from the 196 states that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will seek to reach a unanimous and legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2°C that can be implemented by 2020.

“We therefore have a historic responsibility, as we are the first generation to really become aware of the problem and yet the last generation that can deal with it,” said French minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development in a Youtube statement.

To reach this agreement, member countries will be required to submit documentation of their contributions to greenhouse gas reductions, which will be summarized to give a broad picture of their efforts. Participants will then discuss tangible steps and options for reducing their carbon footprints, such as renewable energy, carbon taxes, technological innovations and sustainable agricultural practices.

The challenge for COP21 will be to prove that international negotiations between large member states with complex agendas can in fact be fruitful. Last year’s COP20 conference in Lima, Peru was blasted by the convention’s Women & Gender Constituency, who claimed that it “failed to move substantially forward towards the ultimate goal of agreeing on a plan to avert climate catastrophe.”

“Governments should be immediately implementing a renewable and safe energy transformation,” wrote Bridget Burns, of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, “but here at COP 20 in Lima, in spite of working almost 2 days overtime, they did not come close to reaching this goal.”

COP21 could prove to be either a crucial point in the fight against climate change or another failed attempt at the kind of global cooperation scientists agree is necessary to prevent catastrophic effects of climate change like rapid sea level rise.

Public tours UI power plant, miscanthus fields

(Clarity R. Guerra/UI Office of Strategic Communications)

Nick Fetty | August 26, 2015

The University of Iowa on Tuesday hosted a field day to allow members of the public to tour the power plant as well as plots of a renewable energy source known as miscanthus.

Tuesday’s event was the third field day the UI has hosted for its Biomass Fuel Project which “aims to assess and improve university power plant facilities, biomass feedstock, and community awareness and education in biomass energy.” The Biomass Fuel Project is one part of the UI’s 2020 Vision which outlines ways for the UI to generate 40 percent of its on-campus energy usage from renewable sources by the 2020.

U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack spoke at Tuesday’s event and lauded the UI’s efforts on this project.

“It’s about making sure we create energy that is cleaner than what we did traditionally, and what we do to some extent today,” he said. “Economically it’s the right thing to do, and in so many other ways it’s the right thing to do.”

Loebsack also praised the UI for its effort to collaborate with Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa on the project. Emily Heaton is a professor of agronomy at ISU and she also spoke at Tuesday’s event. Heaton studies the science behind miscanthus, a perennial tall grass native to Asia, which the UI hopes to begin using to fuel the power plant. She said miscanthus offers “ecosystem services” not available with other renewable energy sources. Those services include miscanthus’ ability to pull carbon dioxide from the air and return it to the soil. Additionally, miscanthus’ deep root system helps prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff into nearby waterways.

In addition to partnering with the other regent universities, UI has also partnered with landowners and growers in Johnson, Linn, and Muscatine counties to harvest the crop. The project started with a 16-acre plot in 2013 and today the UI maintains approximately 350 acres. Miscanthus’ height (at 10 to 12 feet) allows it to produce a higher yield per acre when compared to other similar biomass options.

Though UI officials are still in the experimental stages for using miscanthus as a fuel source, they hope that it will eventually be able to supply 10 percent of the campus’ energy usage.

VIDEO: KGAN – UI Using More Sustainable Energy

MidAmerican Energy to convert +100,000 Iowa streetlights to LED

(MidAmerican Energy)


Nick Fetty | August 20, 2015

MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to convert more than 100,000 Iowa streetlights to Light Emitting Diode (LED) units over the next 10 years.

The project will  encompass all Iowa cities within MidAmerican’s service territory. Major cities within this territory include: Des Moines, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Council Bluffs, Waterloo, Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Smaller communities also expected to participate in the project include Carroll and Storm Lake, among others.

“This is a true partnership between MidAmerican Energy and our communities as we work together to show our commitment to energy efficiency and cost savings as well as contribute to a greener environment,” said Kathryn Kunert, vice president, business and community development for MidAmerican Energy.

As existing high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs burn out they will be replaced by LED fixtures and bulbs. LEDs have several advantages over HPSs including: lower energy consumption, less frequent maintenance, longer life span, instant-on performance, improved night visibility due to improved color index, reduced spill light, and no mercury, lead or other known disposable hazards. LED units, however, have an initial cost that is about four times that of their HPS counterparts.

Cities and other municipalities eligible for this project must complete MidAmerican Energy’s LED streetlighting agreement. Streetlights owned by municipalities and other utility companies will not be part of the project. The conversion will come at no cost unless municipalities opt for an accelerated installation plan.


Report outlines ways to improve wind energy zoning

Wind turbines in New Hampton, Iowa (Theodore Scott/Flickr)
Wind turbines in New Hampton, Iowa (Theodore Scott/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | August 13, 2015

A recent report outlines policy recommendations to make wind energy zoning more efficient in Iowa and other Midwestern states.

The report – published by the Center for Rural Affairs – analyzes three parts of wind energy zoning: zoning approaches practiced in the United States, methods of regulating wind energy development in four Midwestern states (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin), and state and local control of wind energy regulations.

The report points out that wind energy development in Iowa is governed at the state and local levels and that regulations vary greatly among counties. The report’s author – Alissa Doerr, a 2016 J.D. candidate from the University of Nebraska’ College of Law – outlines critiques as well as benefits for regulation at both the state and local levels. She wrote: “The key to an effective approach that promotes wind energy development is to find the correct balance between state and local power. However, one must keep in mind that there are other factors that affect wind energy development that are not addressed by zoning regulations, such as financing wind projects and infrastructure for the transmission of electricity generated by wind power.”

Doerr also lays out ways for revising the permitting process, suggesting that the process not involve more than two levels of review. She concludes:

“Wind energy zoning remains generally uncoordinated and subject to state and/or local regulations, resulting in a piecemeal approach where zoning standards vary between states and within states. In order for wind energy development to continue increasing, there must be an effective approach to wind energy zoning implemented that reduces inconsistency and unpredictability caused by the patchwork approach that is currently in place. The key is finding the right balance between local and state control.”

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.

On the Radio: Iowans look to energy policy when choosing presidential candidates

(Daniel Morrison / Flickr)
(Daniel Morrison / Flickr)

July 20, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent poll that shows Iowans consider energy policies when choosing presidential candidates. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Poll on Energy Policy

Iowa voters consider energy production to be a major factor when selecting candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

An April poll by the Consumer Energy Alliance found that 82 percent of registered Iowa voters said that they consider the energy policies of presidential hopefuls to be a major factor when selecting a candidate. The poll also found that 52 percent of Iowans support offshore drilling for oil in U.S. waters near Alaska, while 32 percent opposed it. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finds that there are approximately 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Alaska outer continental shelf.

Proponents of offshore drilling say that it will create jobs and lead to energy independence, while opponents cite environmental concerns with the drilling as well as with the drilling of fossil fuels.

For more information about the poll, visit

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

Report: Iowa could get 40 percent of power from wind by 2020

Data from the American Wind Energy Association's recent report: "A Wind Vision for New Growth in Iowa." (American Wind Energy Association)
Data from the American Wind Energy Association’s recent report: “A Wind Vision for New Growth in Iowa.” (American Wind Energy Association)

Nick Fetty | July 17, 2015

Iowa leads the nation generating 28 percent of its electricity from wind energy and a new study shows that number could increase to 40 percent by 2020.

During a presentation at Des Moines Area Community College on Thursday, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released a report entitled “A Wind Vision for New Growth in Iowa.” The report used data from the U.S. Department of Energy to analyze the economic and environmental impacts of wind energy in Iowa.

Over the next five years the report predicts that wind energy in Iowa will generate over $49 million in annual property tax revenue, more than $19 million dollars each year in payments to farmers and other rural Iowa landowners, an annual savings of 3.7 billion gallons of fresh water, and more than 6 million metric tons of annual carbon emissions. The report also predicts that by 2050 wind energy could save Iowans more than $3.5 billion on utility bills.

The report outlined several successful case studies of wind energy in Iowa including MidAmerican Energy’s $6.7 billion investment in wind energy over the past decade, the Rippey wind farm and the farmer-owned Junction Hilltop wind farm in Greene County, and the Siemens’ wind turbine blade manufacturing plant which with more than 600 workers is the biggest employer in Lee County.

“Iowa is already a leader in wind energy, but this report shows the Hawkeye state has just scratched the surface of wind power’s benefits to the state,” AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said in a press release.

A report released by the AWEA in April found that Iowa added more than 2,000 jobs to the wind energy sector between 2013 and 2014. Iowa’s wind energy sector currently employs more than 7,000 and wind turbine manufacturing makes up the majority of Iowa’s manufacturing industry with 13 factories and assembly plants around the state.