On the Radio: Agriculture now highest source of greenhouse gases in Iowa


Cattle grazing in a field in Story County (Carl Wycoff, Flickr).
Cattle grazing in a field in Story County (Carl Wycoff, Flickr).

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at the Iowa DNR’s 2013 Greenhouse Gas inventory, which shows that Iowa’s agriculture industry is now the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions for the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Agriculture is now the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resourcesʼ 2013 Greenhouse Gas inventory report
found that Iowaʼs agriculture industry contributes to 27 percent of the stateʼs
greenhouse gas emissions.

The figure is due in part to Iowaʼs increasing dependence on wind energy, which has
drastically decreased the need for coal use over the last decade and brought emissions
from electric power generation down to 25 percent.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture include those from animal digestive
systems, plant fertilizers and agricultural runoff. The most common of these gases are
methane and nitrous oxide.

Although agricultural emissions increased last year, Iowaʼs total emissions have now
decreased for three straight years.

For more information about greenhouse gas emissions, visit
IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, Iʼm Jerry
Schnoor.

http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/RegulatoryAir/GreenhouseGasEmissions/
GHGInventories.aspx

Energy Dept to fund research on longer wind turbine blades


(U.S. Department of Energy)

Nick Fetty | March 24, 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced $1.8 million in funding available for research to develop larger wind turbine blades.

The funding is designated for the manufacturing, transportation, and assembly of wind turbine blades longer than 60 meters. The announcement coincides with current research the Energy Department is funding to develop taller wind turbines which includes a study at Iowa State University.

A report by the Energy Department released earlier this month shows that the current amount of electricity generated from wind turbines could double by 2020. The report, entitled Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Energy in the United State, built upon the findings in the Energy Department’s 2008 study, 20% Wind by 2030. The more recent report highlights the economic and infrastructural impact of wind energy, outlining scenarios with “potential economic, environmental, and social benefits” if the U.S. increased its proportion of wind-generated electricity from 10 percent in 2020 to 35 percent in 2050. Currently the U.S. generates about 4.5 percent of electricity from wind.

Based on its projections, the report concludes that over the next three and a half decades increased emphasis on wind energy will save $400 billion in global climate change damages, provide 600,000 jobs, and reduce water consumption by 260 billion gallons.

The development of taller wind turbines could be particularly beneficial for the southeastern region of the U.S. which lags behind the rest of the country in wind energy. The taller wind turbines can also be utilized for offshore operations, particularly along the gulf coast and eastern seaboard.

On the Radio: Iowa stays ahead in wind generation


An Iowa wind farm (Brian Hoffman / Flickr)
An Iowa wind farm (Brian Hoffman / Flickr)
March 23, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an assessment of Iowa’s wind energy industry that shows the state still leads the nation in percentage of wind energy production. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Wind

With over 3,400 turbines, Iowa maintained its third-place ranking in wind energy generation last year.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The American Wind Energy Association recently released fact sheets for each state,
showing that Iowa sits behind only Texas and California in wind projects added as of last year. Iowa still leads the nation in energy percentage from wind, with 27 percent,
resulting in a wind capacity of over 5,000 megawatts. Thatʼs enough to power nearly 1.5
million homes.

Even with those gains, the Association estimates wind power could meet
the stateʼs electricity needs forty times over. Iowa has one of the largest turbine
manufacturers in the country and two of the largest blade manufacturers.

The report shows that thanks to wind, Iowa avoided over 9 million metric tons of CO2
emissions and saved over 3 billion gallons in water usage.

For more information about wind energy, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, Iʼm Jerry
Schnoor.

http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/FileDownloads/pdfs/Iowa.pdf

Obama orders fed gov’t to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more emphasis on renewable energy


President Obama recently signed an executive order calling for the federal government to reduce grennhouse gas emissions while putting more emphasis on renewable energy sources. (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)
President Obama recently signed an executive order calling for the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while putting more emphasis on renewable energy sources. (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | March 20, 2015

President Obama signed an executive order on Thursday calling for the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 2008 levels over the next decade. The order also calls for renewable energy sources to make up 30 percent of total electricity consumption over the same period. The plan is expected to save taxpayers $18 million in electricity costs.

“We thought it was important for us to lead by example,” Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press. “These are ambitious goals, but we know they’re achievable goals.”

The Obama administration hopes that this decision will serve as a model for encouraging other nations to deal with the effects of climate change. Other nations are expected to set similar carbon emission and renewable energy goals as part of a global climate treaty to be finalized in December.

According to the most recent data available, the federal government contributed to less than one percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2013. Obama also lauded efforts made by private sector companies such as General Electric, IBM, and Northrup Grumman which have taken voluntary steps at mitigating the effects of climate change.

This announcement comes on the heels of last month’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 which calls for a 7 percent increase in funding for clean energy and $4 billion to encourage further reduction in power plant emissions.

Proposed bill would fund natural resources through sales tax increase


A shot of the autumn trees at Lake Ahqabi State Park in central Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)
Lake Ahqabi State Park in central Iowa during the fall. (TumblingRun/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | March 19, 2015

Earlier this week state lawmakers proposed a bill that would raise sales tax by three-eighths of a percent to help fund natural resources preservation and outdoor recreation efforts.

Money raised would go to Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which was approved by 63 percent of Iowa voters in 2010. State Senator David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) estimates that the bill will generate approximately $150 million each year.

The Senate Natural Resources and Environment subcommittee voted 3-0 to approve Senate File 357 which would go into effect July 1, 2016. The bill has received bipartisan support in Iowa’s democrat-controlled Senate and has also been backed by more than 85 environmental and wildlife groups. The bill will now be advanced to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

However, the proposal in its current form may meet some resistance in the republican-controlled House, according to Rep. Tom Sands (R-Wappello) who also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

“It would be extremely difficult for House Republicans to vote to raise fuel taxes and sales taxes in the same year. Our focus in our campaigns has always been to try to lower taxes for all Iowans,” Sands said in an interview with the Des Moines Register

The Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards outlined several potential projects the bill could fund to improve outdoor recreational activities in Iowa’s 99 counties. Additionally, the group said these projects would create “tens of thousands” of jobs to accommodate the increase in visitors at Iowa parks.

If approved, this bill would be the states first sales tax increase since 1992.

“Why should I care what happens downstream?” Why topsoil preservation matters


An example of healthy soil in Iowa (Natural Resources Conservation Service / Flickr)
An example of healthy soil in Iowa (Natural Resources Conservation Service / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | March 18, 2015

Starting tonight, Iowans will have their say on the proposed relaxing of topsoil preservation rules for newly constructed sites.

In hearings over the last year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has considered comments from home developers and homebuilders who wish to amend a current rule regarding topsoil conservation. While the current rule requires companies to maintain or replace at least 4 inches of topsoil on new construction sites, the industry is asking to be able to choose for themselves how much soil – if any – is to be replaced on such lots. Homeowners and conservationists have come out in defense of the current rule, which preserves soil health and prevents the headaches of flooding and runoff from land lacking in topsoil, while saving homeowners the added expense of adding the soil themselves.

At one of the initial hearings on the rule, however, a contractor is reported to have asked, “Why should I care what happens downstream?” For some, the benefits of topsoil preservation seem far off, and not worth the added $3,500-$6,000 in replacement costs per lot the industry estimates. However, all Iowans would feel the effects of relaxed soil conservation rules. Here are a few reasons topsoil matters:

  • Healthy topsoil is Iowa’s first and best defense against excessive flooding. When topsoil is removed from a lot, the land can’t hold nearly as much moisture. As a result, water from storms and snow melts simply runs off, causing increased flash flood concerns. During warm seasons, standing water on stripped land can also attract mosquitos and disease-carrying organisms.
  • In addition to moisture, land with healthy topsoil holds fertilizer better than land without it. This means that when storms come, landowners are at less risk for nutrient runoff, preventing them from incurring the added cost of applying additional fertilizers. This is also good for our rivers and streams, which are already inundated with excessive nitrates and phosphorus from nutrient runoff.
  • Healthy topsoil is an absolute necessity for growing grass, trees and gardens. Without it, homeowners will often have to haul in their own topsoil, adding unexpected costs to their home purchase which could have been folded into their mortgage in the first place (and probably at a much lower rate).
  • Topsoil protects Iowa’s water quality and reduces costs for water utilities. The Des Moines Water Works, which is suing three Iowa counties over nutrient runoff disputes, spent over half a million dollars in nutrient replacement this winter.

The Iowa DNR will hear comments regarding the proposed rule change at public hearings starting Wednesday, March 18, at the Cedar Rapids City Services Center. The DNR will also conduct hearings on March 25 in Davenport and March 27 in Des Moines. Iowans can give written comments by mail to Joe Griffin, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 502 E. Ninth St., Des Moines, IA 50319-0034. They can also send comments by email to joe.griffin@dnr.iowa.gov .

 

UI partners with North Carolina company for biomass project


Miscanthus is a perennial tall grass grown and burned as an eneergu source on the UI campus. (Wikimedia Commons)
Miscanthus is a perennial tall grass grown and burned as an energy source on the UI campus. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | March 17, 2015

Repreve Renewables, LLC has been selected to provide agricultural and business development services for the University of Iowa’s Biomass Fuel Project.

The Greensboro, North Carolina-based company will employ its Accu Yield™ System, “a proprietary, precision agricultural system, to plant and establish giant miscanthus.” This system is able to reduce the cost of establishing the plant while also increasing yields, making it a more economically-feasible renewable energy option.

“The University of Iowa is a leader in sustainability, just as Repreve Renewables is a trailblazer in biomass production and logistics,” Repreve Renewables CEO Jeff Wheeler said in a press release. “The Biomass Fuel Project provides the opportunity to achieve breakthrough renewable energy solutions. Working as a team with the local community, we can create new revenue sources for farmers and landowners, improve the soil, mitigate erosion and runoff, and increase the use of renewable energy to reduce the carbon footprint. We are honored to be a part of the University’s 2020 Vision.”

Miscanthus is a perennial tall grass that the UI Power Plant has used as a biomass fuel source in recent years as part of the 2020 Vision aimed at reducing the campus’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Repreve Renewables will now begin to procure land commitments for approximately 2,500 acres in the Iowa City area. This includes the Eastern Iowa Airport where the plant will not only be harvested as a renewable energy source but also as way of improving soil and water quality by mitigating the effects of erosion in the area.