EPA leader focused on water quality, biofuels and livestock in first Iowa visit


Via North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

Elizabeth Miglin | May 6, 2021

The new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan visited Iowa on Tuesday to discuss agriculture’s impact on environmental issues. 

Regan’s first visit to Iowa, included a tour of the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant near Nevada, followed by a group discussion with farmers and a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds in Des Moines. Later in the day, Regan met with state and city officials to announce plans for a superfund site near downtown Des Moines. Notably, no discussions occurred with environmental organizations during his trip. 

The focus of Regan’s visit surrounded water quality, biofuels, and livestock production. Iowa environmental advocates have long supported regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus, two of the main farm fertilizers polluting Iowa’s lakes and streams. However, Regan spoke in favor of a nutrient reduction strategy focused on individual farmers taking steps to address this issue, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch


Regan’s visit comes as the issue of waivers to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard are before the U.S. Supreme Court. The waivers, which are highly objected to by farmers, allow oil refiners to not blend biofuels into oil production per the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to Iowa Environmental Focus. Although the Biden Administration does not support the reinstatement of the waivers, concerns have arisen over the administration’s push for electric vehicles and lack of support for corn and soybean-based biofuels. Speaking to these concerns, Regan emphasized the necessity for the co-existence of biofuels and electric vehicles for the foreseeable future.

Biofuel Waivers For Oil Refineries Could Be Removed After EPA Files Motion


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | May 4th, 2021

The EPA has filed a motion to remove biofuel waivers granted to the Sinclair Oil Corp. over questions on whether the waivers were allowed under previous court rulings.

Sinclair Oil Corp. received three biofuel waivers for the years 2018 and 2019 shortly before the Trump administration left office which exempted their oil production from federal biofuel requirements. These waivers have been a contentious issue after a 10th circuit court ruling in 2020 that argued some of the recently granted waivers had been inappropriately issued by the EPA. That ruling declared that these biofuel waivers could only be applied as continuous extensions to waivers granted in 2010, not as stand alone waivers, which would greatly limit the number of oil refineries that would qualify.

Two oil refining companies challenged the court’s ruling, however, a U.S. federal court threw out the challenge just last month. Both companies had previously received waivers that would not have been issued under the new court order, and had petitioned for a rehearing over the decision. While biofuel blending is good for farmers, the requirement that billions of gallons of ethanol must be included in gasoline costs is very expensive for the oil industry.

Iowa benefits greatly from biofuel requirements, since the state is the number one producer of ethanol in the country, with a yearly total of approximately 4.5 billion gallons of ethanol, or around 27% of U.S. ethanol production.  Federal blending standards were introduced under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard which spurred agricultural growth in Iowa and a surge in the price of corn that brought high profits for farmers.

The Majority of Iowa’s Energy Now Comes from Wind


Flickr

Josie Taylor | April 12, 2021

The proportion of Iowa’s energy that comes from wind is at almost 60%, the highest in the United States. 

Iowa added around 540 wind turbines this past year, despite the global pandemic, bringing the total number of wind turbines in the state to almost 5,900, according to the American Clean Power Association.

Some parts of Iowa have already made it far above 60%. In the Des Moines metro area, wind supplies more than 80% of its energy, which is 19% higher than in 2019, according to Mid American Energy. 

Although wind is Iowa’s main energy source, solar energy is expected to increase dramatically in Iowa’s future. Seven large solar projects already under development in the state, and they will add roughly 1,740 megawatts to the grid once completed.

President Biden has set a goal for the nation to reach 100% sustainable energy use by 2050 through wind and solar energy. For Iowa, this is a very attainable goal. Sustainable energy has been on the rise in Iowa for the past decade. Coal supplied 71% of Iowa’s energy in 2010, and it now supplies only 22%. 

Iowa continues to lead the nation in sustainable energy production, and the increase in sustainability isn’t projected to stop any time soon. 

Idle Nuclear Plant in Eastern Iowa Will Become a Solar Farm


Image shows a row of solar panels in a field
Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | April 1, 2021

NextEra Energy Resources of Florida plans to convert the idle Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, Linn County into a new solar farm. Previously, the 615-MW nuclear power plant powered 600,000 homes and the new solar farm is expected to surpass that with a capacity of 690-MW.

The solar farm will span 3,500 acres around the energy center and will include 60-megawatts (MW) of AC-coupled batteries for power storage. NextEra plans to invest $700 million over 30 years into the project resulting in $41.6 million in tax revenue and 300 construction jobs. The company hires as many workers from the local area as possible for these projects. 

The Duane Arnold nuclear power plant began operating 45 years ago and was expected to be decommissioned at the end of October 2020, however, by 2019 it was clear the plant no longer fit Iowa’s energy needs. 

NextEra has the largest renewable energy production portfolio in the United States. The company operates solar projects in 27 states and Canada with around 2,600 MW of universal and small-scale solar operating assets. This will be NextEra’s first solar project in Iowa. 

The project is expected to begin construction in winter 2022 and be operational by the end of 2023. 

Solar Installations Could Save Local Governments $375 Million


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | March 1, 2021

A new report showed that Iowa taxpayers could save $375 million if every county seat, county government and school district installed an average-sized solar energy system.

Auditor Rob Sand reached out to local governments, school districts and the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association for information on solar installations in the state. Of the 27 projects he randomly chose to analyze, 13 responded to questions. The report revealed that solar panels save local governments and school districts an average of $26,475 each year, and each installation could save $716,437 over its lifetime, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Sand came up with the idea for the study while discussing energy savings with family members who own solar panels. He hoped to add solar energy to his Public Innovations and Efficiencies (PIE) program, a project that aims to save taxpayers money through energy conservation. Once the study was complete, Sand noted that school districts could use sales tax receipts for installation and maintenance, reducing pressure on general funds supported by property taxes.

Some local governments and school districts have avoided paying upfront costs for their installations altogether. The city of Letts and Sigourney schools both build solar systems with no upfront payments, and others could do the same by leasing equipment or buying power from other solar energy system owners. The price of solar installations dropped 90% over the past 10 years, and most systems can pay for themselves in five to 15 years, depending on individual circumstances.

Webster County Approves Plan to Build New Solar Field


Pictured are solar panels in a field.
Via Flickr

Elizabeth Miglin | February 25, 2021

Webster County recently approved plans to build a 957-acre solar field. The energy produced by the panels would be able to power 30,000 homes.

Holliday Creek Solar LLC, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota will build the field and eventually transfer the site’s certificate to MidAmerican Energy. Construction is set to begin in the spring and conclude by next winter, according to Webster County planning and zoning administrator Jeff Johnson. The energy will be directed to a nearby substation, then exported to a transmission grid providing energy to other counties.

“We are moving in the right direction,” Johnson said many participating landlords and homeowners in the county are interested in this project.

While Iowa solar panels net capacity has grown from 2-megawatts (MW) in 2012 to as much as 160 MW in 2020, many counties have yet to adopt solar and wind ordinances which provide construction guidelines for these projects.

The Webster County Board of Adjustment approved the project on Jan. 18, followed by the Iowa Utilities Board on Feb. 3.

Iowa Business Interests Face Off Over Proposed Ethanol Mandate


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | February 16th, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed a new ethanol fuel mandate which would increase the sale of renewable fuels at Iowa gas stations and shift existing tax credits to support higher percentage renewable fuels.

The proposed rule, House Study Bill 185, would mandate that all gasoline sold in Iowa must include 10% ethanol and that all diesel fuel must include 5-11% biodiesel depending on the time of year.  Gas stations would also be allowed only one non-renewable pump, and, would also be required to install new equipment that could handle higher percentages of biofuels.  The potential equipment upgrade has pitted fuel business interests against the governor as the required upgrades could potentially cost up to $1 billion dollars.

Fuel interests in Iowa, like FUELIowa and the Iowa Motor Truck Association, warn that the proposal may increase consumer fuel costs and drive truckers to not purchase fuel in Iowa.  On the other side, biofuel interests, such as the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, favor the proposal as it is projected to increase biofuel grants by around $7 million per year.  Competing interests between these two groups over a vital Iowa industry suggests that there will be heated discussions when subcommittee hearings for the bill begin on Wednesday.

Tom Vilsack’s USDA Secretary Nomination Passes Committee, Moves to Full Senate


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | February 4, 2021

The Senate agriculture committee approved former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s nomination as U.S. agriculture secretary Tuesday and sent it on to the full Senate for consideration.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, are expected to join Democratic Senators in confirming Vilsack’s nomination. Once confirmed, Vilsack will begin his second tour as agriculture secretary, a position he previously held from 2009 to 2017 under President Barack Obama. His position under Biden will come with the responsibility of leading the department during a global pandemic that has increased the need for food assistance, and he will be tasked with urging the agriculture industry to prioritize combatting climate change as Biden’s nominee, according to a Des Moines Register article.

Vilsack fielded multiple questions about climate change and biofuels while the Senate agriculture committee considered his nomination. As an Iowa Republican, Sen. Joni Ernst took an interest in his views on ethanol and biofuel production. She asked if he would support their production as President Biden looks to shift the country to electric vehicles, a move she said would put farmers at risk.

Vilsack responded that it is necessary to advance the production of both electric vehicles and biofuels moving forward. He referenced a recent study showing that greenhouse gas emissions from corn-based ethanol are 46% lower than from gasoline, and he reassured the committee that Americans need the biofuel industry for the foreseeable future as electric vehicle technology catches up. Vilsack added that expanding renewable energy can also benefit farmers. Iowa farmers and landowners receive about $69 million annually from energy companies that lease their land for wind turbines, and those opportunities could expand as demand for electric vehicles increases.

Des Moines City Council Approves Transition to 100% Renewable Energy


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | January 14, 2021

The Des Moines City Council unanimously approved a resolution this week that aims to transition all Des Moines homes and businesses to renewable energy by 2035.

Environmental activists celebrated the resolution, and more than 40 businesses in Des Moines endorsed it. Councilman Josh Mandelbaum, who introduced the resolution, said that it was made possible in part by MidAmerican Energy’s investments in renewable energy sources. MidAmerican is working toward the goal of producing all of its power from renewable sources, and it plans to close all of its coal and gas plants once renewable energy transmission and storage technology improves enough to meet demands, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Des Moines has already implemented changes in recent years to become more environmentally friendly, and this resolution will push the city closer to that goal. Frank Cownie has advocated for the city to reduce carbon emissions since becoming Mayor of Des Moines in 2004. He pledged to honor the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement after Donald Trump announced the United States’ departure from the climate pact in 2016, and the city passed an ordinance in 2019 that requires large businesses to inventory and submit their greenhouse gas emissions and water use annually. In a statement to the city council, Cownie said that local governments play an important role in promoting sustainability and climate change mitigation. They are often tasked with addressing the impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate change, so steps like these are becoming increasingly important.

By approving the resolution, Des Moines will join over 170 other cities across the country that have already made 100% clean energy commitments. Some council members had previously expressed concern over the cost associated with the goal and resisted pushing for even faster action by leveraging the city’s partnership with MidAmerican Energy. However, by working with MidAmerican and other parties to meet the 2035 goal, Des Moines will likely save energy users money in the long run. Renewable energy projects are also likely to create jobs and attract businesses and residents to the Des Moines area in the future.

Nuclear Energy Plant Closure Decreases Clean Energy In Iowa


via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | January 5th, 2021

The Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) near Palo, IA was decommissioned in August after incurring damage from the Derecho which decreases the amount of clean energy in Iowa.

The DAEC began commercial operation in February 1975 and served Iowa for 45 years before plans to decommission the plant in October, 2020 were sped up after the cooling towers were damaged by the Derecho.  Plans for the decommission will have all nuclear fuel in dry storage by 2023, and all building structures removed by 2080 once radioactivity has decreased. 

Approximately 10% of Iowa’s electricity came from the DAEC which means alternative energy sources such as natural gas and coal will be required to cover energy demand until alternative sources such as windmills are installed.  Other states, such as Illinois, are facing similar nuclear plant closures but have previously taken steps to prolong the lifespan their of nuclear power plants. Iowa has not taken steps to promote nuclear energy as a tool to combat climate change.

Approximately 20% of all U.S. energy has been reliably provided by nuclear energy since 1990, and nuclear energy has been deemed necessary to achieve global climate goals.  Energy produced by nuclear sources is commonly equated with energy produced by fossil fuels, however, they are not the same as carbon emissions are generally ignored in these types of comparisons.   Nuclear energy can be used to aid the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy, but to meet our goals current nuclear capabilities must be increased.