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.

Midwest researchers come together for research project


Doug Schnoebelen, left, explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Doug Schnoebelen explains early 20th century mussel production along the Mississippi River during the CZO-IML conference on July 29, 2015. From left, Schnoebelen, Praveen Kumar, Thanos Papanicolaou, and Chris Wilson. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | July 30, 2015

Roughly 30 students, professors, and researchers from six different institutions met in Muscatine this week to discuss a collaborative research effort to improve land, water, and air quality in the Midwest.

This Midwestern project is part of a nation-wide project known as the Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) an effort by the National Science Foundation to “[study] the zone where rock meets life.” The Midwestern project is called the CZO-IML (Intensely Managed Landscapes) and focuses on watersheds and lands in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine hosted the IML-CZO conference which began Tuesday and ends today. This marked the second annual meeting for what will be a five year project.

“The first year was a lot of planning and field campaigns. The second year we’ve collected some data will be able to get that back to look at the results. We finally have some things to discuss, some real science,” said LACMRERS Director Doug Schnoebelen.

Schnoebelen, who also serves as a contributor for the IML-CZO project as well as a member of CGRER, said he hopes this research will be helpful not just for farmers and watershed managers but also for the general public.

“We’re hoping to look at an integrated approach and that’s what the Critical Zone is, being able to say something about water movement, soil conservation, transformation of carbon and energy in the environment. All of these things are really critical to the soil, the water, and the way we live.”

The conference brought together researchers from Indiana University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and University of Tennessee. Schnoebelen said this emphasis on collaboration over competition has been key to the success of the project. He added that he is also grateful the CZO chose to support a Midwestern research project since much of the CZO’s other research takes place on the coasts.

“I think it was important when the national team came out and they realized how managed our landscape was and how important this research really was. It’s not just flyover country in the Midwest, it’s a critical part of our economy for food and energy.”

Iowa City Science Booster Club to host first public event


Science Booster Club - Iowa City - tshirt - V2 with Gradients

Nick Fetty | July 29, 2015

The Iowa City Science Booster Club (ICSBC) will host its first public event this Saturday during the Iowa City Farmers Market.

Saturday’s event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at Chauncey Swan Park in downtown Iowa City. Kids as well as adults will have an opportunity to learn about science through hands-on activities and demonstrations.

” You can play with laser guns to measure surface temperatures, and gas probes that will let you see how C02 and oxygen concentrations change in closed environments. You’ll also have a chance to learn about soil science, local agricultural issues, and local wildlife,” said Emily Schoerning, who leads the ICSBC and also serves as director of community organizing and research for the National Center for Science Education.

The ICSBC aims to improve science education in the area through fundraising and other public outreach efforts. The club is largely modeled off of a similar effort in Sisters, Ore., a town with a population of just over 2,000. Schoerning said the efforts from the Sisters science booster club have led to more funding for area science classrooms as well as higher test scores.

The Iowa City club first launched in April and currently has about 200 members. Members of the group have been working to establish partnerships with area businesses and other agencies such as New Pioneer Co-op and the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History and biology department.

Saturday’s event will also give kids the opportunity to plant seeds and take them home to watch them grow. There will also be t-shirts and buttons for participants whiles supplies last and even a raffle for a laser temperature gun. For Schoerning, who holds PhD in microbiology, the mission of the ICSBC is simple.

“[We want] to help people in our area come together to learn about science and support local science teachers.”

MidAmerican Energy parent to invest $15 billion in renewables


(Don Graham / Flickr)
(Don Graham / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | July 28, 2015

The parent company for MidAmerican Energy has pledged to invest $15 billion in renewable energy construction and operation, in addition to another $15 billion already invested through 2014.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which acquired MidAmerican in 2000, recently joined twelve other behemoth U.S. companies including Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Walmart in the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a partnership that aims to help the Obama administration reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 26-28% by 2025. The pledged investments would help Berkshire Hathaway expand its wind portfolio to 57% of its total retail energy load by 2017.

The company would also expand its investments in solar energy and, perhaps most importantly for Iowans, make infrastructure improvements that would help better integrate renewables into the existing power grid. Elsewhere in the country, Berkshire Hathaway plans to retire 75% of its energy produced from coal in Nevada by 75%.

Several of the companies that signed the pledge Monday have a significant Iowa presence, including Cargill and Google. Google boasts a 35% renewable energy rate for all of its operations, but hopes to reach 100% renewables. Cargill claims 16% energy efficiency gains since 2005, and aims to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from beef production.

Iowa companies fined for environmental violations


Nick Fetty | July 24, 2015

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued fines against roughly a dozen Iowa companies for environmental violations.

The announcement was made earlier this month and includes a $10,000 fine for air quality violations against the Mason City-based ethanol production facility Golden Grain Energy LLC. The DNR cites that the company (1) exceeded permitted emission limits and failed to properly maintain required records, (2) failed to properly maintain equipment, (3) failed to continuously operate an emissions monitoring system, and (4) failed to continuously monitor thermal oxidizer temperature. In 2012, the company was fined $5,750 for air quality violations.

Other consent orders issued by the Iowa DNR include a $5,000 fine for Farm Nutrients LLC (Kossoth County) for manure runoff into state waters, a $6,500 fine for Twilight Investments LLC (Fremont County) for manure application violations, $5,575 for Smith Ag Inc. (Mitchell County) for manure discharge violations resulting in a fish kill, $8,000 for M.G. Waldbaum Company (Hancock County) for past permit violations, and $1,000 for Porter Farms, Inc. (Jefferson County) for manure disposal.

A full list of actions taken by the Iowa DNR is available on its website.

Group hopes to use RAGBRAI to restore Iowa’s Monarch populations


Nick Fetty | July 23, 2015

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) kicked off this week and one CGRER member is hoping to use the event as a opportunity restore Monarch butterfly populations in the Hawkeye State.

CGRER founding member David Osterberg and University of Iowa College of Public Health research support specialist Nancy Wyland organized an event last week inviting people to help make milkweed  “seed bombs.” These bombs consist of soil, compost, and milkweed seeds rolled into a ball – roughly the size of a golf ball – which will be distributed to RAGBRAI riders as they make their way through Mount Vernon Friday afternoon.

Riders are encouraged to toss these seed bombs in ditches along roads in Linn and Johnson County to bring back milkweed plants with the hope of restoring Iowa’s Monarch butterfly population. Estimates show a 90 percent decline in Monarch populations over the past 20 years.

Osterberg and his group helped create roughly 600 seed bombs as part of a larger effort spearheaded by Monarchs in Eastern Iowa, a group that aims to store Monarch populations in Eastern Iowa. Last year the group raised and released approximately 1400 butterflies.

Among the riders participating in this effort is Kelly “Milkweed” Guilbeau. The Grinnell resident, who sports a butterfly costume during the ride, first began tossing out seed bombs last year. Guilbeau also manages a blog which focuses on Monarch butterflies.

This year marks the 43rd anniversary of RAGBRAI with approximately 20,000 participants on this year’s ride.

Iowa Climate Statement 2015 getting national media attention


Dr. Yogi Shah, of Des Moines University, speaks during the presentation of Iowa Climate Statement 2015 at the statehouse on May 11, 2015. (KC McGinnis)
Dr. Yogi Shah, of Des Moines University, speaks during the presentation of Iowa Climate Statement 2015 at the statehouse on May 11, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)

Nick Fetty | July 22, 2015

Iowa Climate Statement 2015: Time for Action was released more than two months ago but the news is still getting noticed by national media outlets.

On Monday, Yale Climate Connections ran a radio piece about the statement which urges Iowa voters to ask presidential hopefuls to address climate-related issues while on the campaign trial. The piece interviewed Drake University environmental science and policy professor David Courard-Hauri who was also one of the statement’s lead authors.

Iowa Climate Statement 2015 was signed by 188 scientists and researchers from 39 colleges and universities in the state. This marked the 5th installment of the series which started in 2011 with just 30 signers. With the 2016 presidential election just around the corner, the 2015 statement encourages Iowa voters to ask presidential candidates about climate policies they support during campaign stops in the Hawkeye State.

Aside from coverage on Iowa Environmental Focus, the statement has also been noticed by local outlets such as the Cedar Rapids Gazette, WHO-TV, Iowa Public Radio, and Radio Iowa as well as national outlets like ThinkProgress and Al Jazeera America.

The statement has also gotten much attention on social media, particularly Twitter.

The authors of the 2015 statement hope to use Iowa’s role as the first in the nation caucus to bring attention to climate issues for both republican and democratic candidates. Iowa’s caucus takes place on February 1, 2016.