Iowa environmental groups say proposed Alliant rate hike is uneconomical


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Two Iowa environmental non-profits are concerned about proposed cost increases for Alliant Energy customers(via flickr).

Julia Poska | September 11, 2019

The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center last month submitted testimony  from five “expert witnesses” to the Iowa Utilities Board regarding Alliant Energy’s proposed base rate increases, currently under review.

The environmental groups disapprove of the proposal overall and said they believe they have identified alternative “solutions that will save customers money while cleaning up Alliant’s generation mix.”

Below are summaries of Alliant’s proposal and the environmental groups’ critique.

About Alliant’s proposal

On April 1, 2019, Alliant customers began seeing an interim base rate increase (about $8 for the typical residential customer) on their energy bills.

The company plans to further raise the rate beginning January 1, 2020. The total increase of $20 (24.45%) for typical  residential customers would bring about $203.6 million in revenue into the company annually.

In a proposal to customers, Alliant said the company is “investing in new wind farms, energy grid technologies including advanced metering infrastructure, and environmental controls that reduce emissions.”

The company has also said that the additional cost to customers would be offset over time by reductions in other costs like energy efficiency.

 The proposed increases are awaiting a hearing in November from the Iowa Utility Board. If the increases are not approved, Alliant would have to refund customers for excess paid during the interim increase. 

The IEC/ELPC perspective 

The IEC and ELPC have both economic and socioeconomic concerns about the proposal, as outlined in their testimony to the IUB. The testimony also provided economic analysis of the utility’s current coal power generation. 

A few highlights from the testimony include:

  1. Coal generation costs more than renewables. An analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute Principal Uday Varadarajan on behalf of the two organizations found that the cost of Alliant’s coal generation exceeds that of projected renewable energy costs. Retiring three Alliant coal plants and purchasing market energy or purchasing or generating wind energy could save customers $16 million in 2020, he found.  This was proposed as an alternative move for Alliant to make, increasing renewables while reducing rather than increasing cost to consumers. (Read more from U.S. Energy News).
  2. Revenue would be spent on wasteful initiatives. The groups call out one initiative Alliant has proposed — putting power lines underground — as a poor use of consumer funds.
  3. Proposed solar programs could undermine the industry. The groups believe Alliant’s new community solar program (implied to be funded in part by the rate increase) would compete with solar businesses and potentially create a monopoly. They said the proposal also includes measures similar to those proposed in the “Sunshine Tax” legislation earlier this year to increase cost for solar customers.

 

 

The world’s protein companies still failing to address their environmental impact


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(Mike Myers/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| September 9, 2019

The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, in its second active year, just released their report analyzing the environmental, social, and governance risks of meat, dairy, and farmed fish producers. One large take away from this year’s study was the lack of attention given to environmental and animal welfare by some of the world’s largest protein producers.

The FAIRR Index looked at 60 different companies and found evidence of lacking sustainability efforts for greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, food waste, conditions for workers, antibiotic use, and animal welfare. Only 30% of the analyzed companies were able to give the researchers specific environmental strategy plans which focused only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One-quarter of the companies refused to even disclose their use of antibiotics on their animals.

As more research regarding climate change emerges, this isn’t just a problem for consumers. The conversation is shifting toward some of the financial consequences of severe weather for these large companies.

“What we’re seeing is that companies in the sector are contributing to many of the risks we discuss in the report, but they’re also deeply vulnerable…to the impacts of climate change,” says FAIRR’s Head of Research, Aarti Ramachandran. In an interview with Forbes, Ramachandran gave an example of an Australian Agricultural Company that lost over $100 million in damages due to extreme flooding.

Ramachandran does leave the report on a positive note acknowledging the increased investments in plant-based proteins by meat and dairy companies. He stated, “we think that, overall, there should be a rebalancing of protein so that animal protein consumption doesn’t continue to grow at the same trajectory, and so that there is a sustainable balance between plant-based and animal-based food.”

Iowa’s electric-car expansion


Photo by wd wilson, Flickr

By Julia Shanahan | August 1st, 2019

MidAmerican Energy will build 15 new charging stations across Iowa to encourage Iowans to by electric cars, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

The company will invest $3.75 million to build the stations along U.S. Highway 20 from Sioux City to Waterloo. The Des Moines-based company said their studies show that people like the environmentally-friendly vehicles, but worry about costs and availability of chargers. The new charging stations would charge vehicles in 20 to 45 minutes.

The amount of battery-electric vehicle registrations more than doubled between 2008 and 2016, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. From April of 2017 to September of 2018, battery-electric vehicles increased from 400 to nearly 800 vehicles. The combined total of battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in 2018 was 3,000 cars.

According to a 2019 report from the European Environment Agency, contrary to some skeptics, electric cars are better in terms of air quality and reducing the effects of climate change. The report also says that as renewable fuel becomes more prevalent in everyday use, the benefits of electric cars will increase.  

However, no car can be 100 percent clean, especially if the electric energy is not coming from a renewable source. The European Union, U.S., and China, are the biggest players in electric vehicles globally.

On The Radio- Glass skyscrapers


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(flickr/Duane Schermerhorn)

Kasey Dresser| July 22, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how glass skyscrapers are negatively impacting the environment. 

Transcript:

Glass skyscrapers are having negative impacts on our environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Architects have known for a long time about the difficulties of keeping glass buildings from overheating. When glass office structures became popular choices for new developments in Chicago during the 1880s, practical ventilation methods were used to reduce the heat inside of these structures, but this was only somewhat effective. Modern conveniences, like central air conditioning and central heating, make temperature regulation much easier.

High-rise, glass-paneled buildings are visually striking, but the designs and materials of these buildings make them inefficient energy users. Temperatures are hard to regulate in glass structures, and taller buildings use significantly more energy than shorter ones. Buildings that reach over 20 stories use about twice as much electricity per square meter than buildings under 6 stories.

Environmentalist have been working to restrict the number of glass high-rise developments in the cities across the country. While there are some benefits to glass—like natural lighting—architects are still working on ways to make high-rises more environmentally friendly.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E Mason.

Study shows states in the U.S. can expect more hot days


Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | July 18th, 2019

The number of Iowa’s heat index is above 90 degrees is expected to triple, bringing the average up to 64 days per year by mid-century and 92 days by the century’s end, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Iowa’s heat index includes the temperature and humidity combined. This potentially lethal heat is caused by climate change, according to the study. These heat increased will affect other states across the country as well.

The study says that if there is no action to reduce carbon emissions, then by the end of the century Florida and Texas could experience the equivalent of about five months per year where the average temperature “feels like” its above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with most days surpassing 105 degrees. The study said that some southern states could experience temperatures that would exceed the upper-limit of the National Weather Service heat index scale, causing potential, and unprecedented, health risks.

By mid-century, the study found that 401 U.S. cities, places with more than 50,000 residents, would experience an average of about a month or more a year where temperatures surpass 90 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the usual 239 cities. More than 6 million people would experience “off-the-charts” heat days for about a week or more on average. Overall, the study showed that the Southeast and Southern Great Plains will experience the worst of these effects.


Iowa is experiencing a heat index value of 110 degrees Fahrenheit this week. According to the UCS, heat related injuries can happen at temperatures above 90 degrees, making small children and elderly the most susceptible.  

On The Radio- Iowa’s energy consumption


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Wind Energy (flickr/Aaron Arroy)

Kasey Dresser| July 1, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years.

Transcript:

Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years—but have we been moving in a greener direction?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa’s population has grown from two and a half million in 1960 to just over three million now, and our methods of producing energy have grown and changed over the decades. In the 60s, Iowa was mostly run on natural gas and coal. Wind energy didn’t enter our sphere until the late 90s. Now, coal is our primary source of energy, followed by natural gas and wind.

The consumption of energy is measured in BTUs—British Thermal Units, with each unit representing the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. 

In the 60s, the average Iowan used about 217 million BTUs of energy per year. In 2016, that number jumped to a consumption of 488 million BTUs per Iowa every year, over double the amount of energy despite a population increase of less than a million.

New technology and an increased energy grid are partly to blame, but Iowa would benefit from cutting down energy use when possible, and relying more heavily on green energy—like solar and wind—to light our homes.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E Mason.

Year-round E15 available for consumer access


By Julia Shanahan | June 13th, 2019

President Donald Trump recently approved the sale of year-round ethanol for consumer access – a move that was applauded by Iowa’s Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

In a joint press release from Grassley, Ernst, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, they commended Trump for “keeping his promise” to Iowa farmers.

“[Trump’s] directive to EPA to finalize a rule allowing year-round sales of E15 will allow for an open marketplace with more fuel options, encourage competition and drive down fuel costs — all while improving the environment,” said the June 11 press release.

Trump made an Iowa campaign stop on June 11 in Council Bluffs and West Des Moines, where he touted his approval of year-round E15 to farmers and manufacturers in Council Bluffs. E15 is championed as something that could boost Iowa’s economy because of the use of corn in its manufacturing.

E15, a gasoline blend with 15 percent ethanol, burns cleaner than standard fuel and can be used in all 2001 and newer vehicles. Burning ethanol does result in the emission of greenhouse gas, but when the combustion of ethanol is made from corn or sugarcane, it’s considered atmospheric neutral, because the biomass grows and absorbs CO2.

As of March 2019, Iowa’s ethanol industry has accounted for 43,697 jobs and $4.7 million in GDP, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. In 2018, there was 4.35 billion gallon of ethanol production.

In a 2016 editorial from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, a professor of food and agriculture policy wrote that increasing corn production in the Midwest for ethanol use has repercussions on the environment, and questioned the profitably of the ethanol industry. He referenced ethanol production taking off in the mid-2000s and corn prices reaching record highs in 2007.


However, the USDA cites other contributing factors to the high corn prices, including the depreciating U.S. dollar, bad weather, and policy responses on imports and exports of commodities.