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 IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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.

Iowa utility agrees to phase out several coal plants, pay fine


Smokestacks from a coal plant near Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Rich/Flickr)
Smokestacks from a coal plant near Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Rich/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 16, 2015

An Iowa utility company plans to phase out several of its coal-fired power plants in the near future.

Interstate Power and Light Co. – a subsidiary of Alliant Energy – announced on Wednesday that it will either close or convert to natural gas five of its coal plants while an additional two plants will be equipped with pollution control technology. The cost for these projects is estimated at $620 million. Wednesday’s announcement marks the 200th closure of a coal plant nationwide over the last five years.

The Sierra Club, the state of Iowa, and other local and federal agencies sued Interstate Power and Light alleging the company was in violation of the Clean Air Act. In addition to the closures and upgrades to its facilities, Interstate Power and Light has also agreed to a pay a $1.1 million civil penalty within 30 days of the settlement. The company will also spend an additional $6 million on other environmental projects including the development of solar facilities, the replacement of traditional utility bucket trucks with hybrid trucks, and the development or expansion of anaerobic digesters.

“For several years, we have been executing a plan to create cleaner and more efficient ways to generate energy for our customers,” Alliant Energy Iowa utility President Doug Kopp said in a press release. “Iowans are already seeing the benefits of our work, and our next projects will deliver even more clean-energy solutions.”

Emission reduction projects will take place on two of the company’s largest facilities in Lansing and Ottumwa while smaller power stations in Burlington and Cedar Rapids will convert to natural gas. Alliant generating stations in Clinton, Dubuque, and Marshalltown have already transitioned to natural gas.

Eastern Iowa gets its first Tesla station


A Tesla electric car being charged (Windell Oskay / Flickr)
A Tesla electric car being charged (Windell Oskay / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | July 14, 2015

Two Tesla cars got their first charge in eastern Iowa last week.

The fully electric cars were part of a ribbon cutting ceremony at a new Tesla charging station at Bass Family Farms along Highway 30 in Mt. Vernon. Tesla owners can use the charging station for free, which draws power from one of the farm’s buildings.

Bass Family Farms, a chemical-free farm, is now part of Tesla’s Destination Charging Program, which partners with businesses like hotels and restaurants to provide destinations for Tesla owners to charge. It’s part of a growing effort to increase electric car traffic in places with charging stations few and far between. A Tesla Model S can go 265 miles on a single charge, and charging can take several hours depending on the power source. Tesla’s growing Supercharger infrastructure boasts half charge times of just 30 minutes.

While road trips through Iowa can be difficult with only a few charging stations spread along the state’s highways, at-home charging is becoming an increasingly viable option. Tesla has partnered with solar energy provider SolarCity to make home solar panel installation more affordable, meaning Tesla drivers could have a zero emission commute.

Branstad awards UI for sustainability efforts


Energy conservation measures save the University of Iowa roughly $5.1 million annually, according to UI Facilities Management. (University of Iowa)

Nick Fetty | July 10, 2015

The University of Iowa’s use of miscanthus as a fuel source has gained the attention of Governor Branstad.

On Thursday, the four-term Iowa governor announced that his office was awarding UI Facilities Management the “Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Award” with emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Award is given annually to a handful of Iowa businesses and governmental institutions for efforts made to adopt environmentally sustainable strategies and preserve the state’s natural resources.

The UI was recognized because of its Biomass Fuel Project which utilizes miscanthus and other renewable fuel sources for the UI’s power plant which provides electricity and steam for the campus. The first miscanthus fields were planted in 2013 and today the UI maintains more than 350 acres of the Asian perennial tall grass. Through the use of miscanthus and other methods, university officials hope to achieve 40 percent renewable energy consumption by 2020.

Other award recipients include the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines and the National Wild Turkey Federation in Edgefield as well as school districts in Cedar Rapids and Guthrie Center.

Branstad will formally present the awards during a ceremony in Des Moines on August 4.

Iowa City switching to LED for streetlights


Near the corner of Burlington Street and Gilbert Street facing east. (Stephen Cummings/Flickr)
Near the corner of Burlington Street and Gilbert Street in Iowa City, looking east. (Stephen Cummings/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 9, 2015

The City of Iowa City has made an agreement with MidAmerican Energy to convert approximately 4,000 street and pedestrian lights into LED fixtures over the next four years.

The project will include 2,600 lights within city limits as well as an additional 1,400 lights owned and maintained by the city. LED, or light-emitting diode, fixtures can last 25 times longer and be 75 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs, according to data from the Department of Energy. LEDs also emit less heat and offer a brighter, whiter light compared traditional bulbs.

Funding for the project comes from more than $500,000 the city overpaid to MidAmerican Energy to power streetlights between 2004 and 2014. The money was reimbursed to the city last year and was earmarked for the LED project. The city has also budgeted an additional $50,000 for the project this year and has set aside $75,000 annually for the next four years.

This project is the latest of several sustainability initiatives the city has perused in recent years. Between 1999 and 2005 LED lighting was installed on traffic signals which cut electricity usage in half, according to the city’s website. Other environmentally sustainable initiatives include a wetland restoration project and efforts to capture methane gas at the landfill.

The 2014 Sustainability Report outlines several recent efforts including a climate adaptation study, a wastewater treatment facility expansion and upgrade, and a partnership with the the University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities. The report also lays out goals for 2015 including a local food initiative, a waste reduction project, and a bike share program.