Woodbury County considers LED lighting for all county facilities


The Woodbury County Courthouse is one of 60 county buildings that could be equipped with LED lighting. (Ammodramus/Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | July 2, 2015

Earlier this week the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors approved a study that will look at equipping all county facilities with LED lighting.

The project is expected to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million  “but about 70% of that cost may be returned in the form of a rebate.” Lighting would need to be installed in 60 county buildings accounting for approximately 450,000 square feet.

Board supervisor Jeremy Taylor proposed the idea last week. Taylor, who also serves as the energy specialist for the Sioux City school district, estimated that the actual cost of the project (after rebates) could be recouped through lower energy costs and other savings within about three years.

“As far as our county buildings with LED lighting, which is highly efficient and is going to be a great use of taxpayer money and ultimately result in rebate potentials that will be good for taxpayers and then for the environment too,” Taylor told KTIV.

Taylor was also behind an LED initiative with the school district which has netted at least $350,000 in savings. If the Woodbury County project moves through it will be the first in Iowa to equip all county buildings with LED lighting.

Data from the U.S. Department of Energy shows that LED lights can last more than 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs while also emitting significantly less heat. LED lights also do not contain mercury which can be damaging to the environment and pose public health risks when not properly disposed of.

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.

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.

Iowa town of Bloomfield strives for energy independence


Lake Fisher Park is just west of Bloomfield in Davis County (City of Bloomfield)

Nick Fetty | June 17, 2015

The small southeastern Iowa town of Bloomfield was recently featured in the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) blog for its efforts to achieve energy independence.

City officials in Bloomfield have worked with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU) on a geothermal project to power buildings in the town square. A study by the IAMU found that Bloomfield was capable of becoming a ”net-zero energy community” meaning that it would generate as much energy as it consumes.

In March, representatives from Bloomfield attended RMI’s  ”eLab Accelerator: A Bootcamp for Electricity Innovation,” a four-day work session which brought together 12 teams from across the country. During the session attendees discussed utilizing existing sources for energy production such as capturing methane gas from nearby hog lots.

“By utilizing our resources responsibly and keeping (and creating) energy dollars in our community, we intend to attract new energy initiatives that will create jobs and position us as a community for the 21st century,” said Doug Dixon, president of Bloomfield Main Street, a non-profit organization that aims to “(preserve and revitalize) the historic commercial district through business improvement, while maintaining and promoting the architectural, cultural, and economic heritage of the community.”

Last month the Corporation for National and Community Service announced Bloomfield was one of ten cities nationwide to be part of the agency’s new Operation AmeriCorps initiative. The initiative aims to reduce residential energy demand by five percent over the next two years. Bloomfield city officials hopes to achieve ”net-zero electric community” status by 2030.

Bloomfield is approximately 20 miles south of Ottumwa and has a population of 2,640.

Engineers develop state-by-state plan for 100% renewable energy by 2050


(The Solutions Project)
(The Solutions Project)

Nick Fetty | June 10, 2015

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley have developed a state-by-state plan for the United States to generate 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

The study – which was published last month in the journal Energy and Environmental Sciences – calls for major changes to infrastructure as well as current energy consumption practices. The study’s authors outline ways to combat climate change, eliminate air pollution mortality, create jobs, and stabilize energy prices.

“The main barriers are social, political and getting industries to change. One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible,” Stanford engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson said in a press release. “By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation.”

Jacobson – who also serves as a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy – and his colleagues divided energy consumption into four categories: residential, commercial, industrial and transportation. The plan not only outlines ways to eliminate America’s dependence on oil and coal but also natural gas, nuclear power, carbon capture and sequestration, and biofuels.

The researchers predict that the plan could eliminate 63,000 air pollution-related deaths each year in United States and also save the world $3.3 trillion in damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In Iowa, the plan could save $3.5 billion in health care costs annually and also prevent 540 air pollution-related deaths each year.

Estimate finds ethanol production may be worse for environment than Keystone XL


(futureatlas.com/Flickr)
(futureatlas.com/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | June 9, 2015

New estimates show that corn ethanol production could be worse for the environment than originally thought – even worse than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency date, the Environmental Working Group found that last year’s ethanol production process, including the conversion of millions of acres of arable land for use as corn crops, led to 27 million tons more carbon emissions than if Americans had used regular gasoline only. That’s compared to oil transmitted from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would emit 24 million tons of carbon per year.

The EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard mandates that gasoline sold in the U.S. contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Critics argue that the promise of the standard to promote energy independence and reduce emissions was squandered by mass conversion of grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, releasing carbon stored in the earth and leading to decreased biodiversity. This also had massive implications for the food supply, with the proportion of U.S. corn crops dedicated to ethanol rising from 6 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2013. The conversion of more than 300,000 acres of wetlands between 2008 and 2012 alone released between 25 and 74 million tons of CO2 each year, according to an EWG estimate.

While the EPA predicts that emissions from ethanol production will be lower than that of gasoline by 2022 if ethanol plants use biomass as their energy source, critics are skeptical that plants won’t instead turn to cheaper natural gas. The EWG recommends cutting the ethanol mandate, while industry studies insist that ethanol production will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time.