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.

South Sioux City to become “demonstration site” for stored electrical power


Julia Shanahan | June 7th, 2019

South Sioux City, located in northeast Nebraska, will become a “demonstration site” this winter for the storage of electric power generated by the city’s 1,200 solar panels.

A large battery, described as a “semi trailer without wheels”, will be able to store 1.5 megawatts of power and cost about $1.8 million, according to a report from the Iowa-based Sioux City Journal. This project is a big step in the field of renewable energy because power would be able to be stored for days with less wind or sunlight.

The report also said that solar energy makes up roughly 5 percent of the city’s electricity usage, and that South Sioux City now gets about half of its electricity from renewable sources, like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. In Iowa, about 2 percent of renewable energy comes from a source other than wind.

The city hopes to continue taking steps to lessen its dependence on the Nebraska Public Power District, and eventually fully phase out of their contract.

As South Sioux City takes steps toward utilizing sustainable energy, Iowa remains a leading state in the field of renewable energy.

In 2018, Iowa’s 3,400 wind turbines produced 34 percent of the state’s electricity – the second highest share for any state, according to the U.S. Energy Information System. Additionally, among the top five energy-consuming states, Iowa was the only non-crude oil-producing state on a per-capita basis in 2018.

Iowa also remains the largest producer of ethanol in the U.S., producing one-fourthof the country’s ethanol production capacity.

On The Radio- BP Oil


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Photo taken on April 3rd 2013 in Mauritania near Tiguent Parc-National-Diawling (jbdodane/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| April 8, 2019

This weeks segment looks at BP’s place in the coming decades with rising demands for renewable energy.

Transcript:

BP Oil and Gas has made energy demand predictions about the future—but are they accurate?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After the massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast in 2010, BP became known globally in a decidedly negative light.

Almost a decade later, and with settlement payments still being paid out, the energy company has thrown its weight behind renewable energy. BP outlines in its annual energy outlook that the planet could run on mostly renewable sources by 2040.

There is a small detail that some environmentalists find troubling, however; the BP report also lists an estimated rising global demand for energy well into the 2040s, while other scientific reports estimate that global demand will taper off and even out by the 2030s.

A rising global demand for energy is a given, as underdeveloped countries begin working on their infrastructure and making improvements for their citizens. But overestimating how much energy will be needed globally in the future could allow oil companies to continue selling more fossil fuels, even as renewable energy use grows.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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

Presidential hopefuls discuss sustainable ag at last weekend’s Heartland Forum


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Photo by Julia Poska, 2019. 

Julia Poska | April 4, 2019

Last weekend, four 2020 presidential candidates and one likely contender gathered in Storm Lake, Iowa to discuss their visions for struggling rural America at the Heartland Forum. Here’s what each said about sustainability and agriculture:

Julián Castro: The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama was asked a question about promoting eco-friendly family food farmers for economic, social and environmental resiliency.

“Our family farms help feed America—and the world, really—so we need to make sure that they can succeed, and also that people in these rural areas and rural communities can have clean air and water. Number one, I would appoint people to the EPA who actually believe in environmental protection,” he said. He specifically discussed boosting funds to enforce the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Rep. John Delaney (D-MD): Delaney’s “Heartland Fair Deal,” which he discussed at the forum, lays out plans for investing in negative emissions technology and focusing on climate resiliency and flooding.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Klobuchar said she would re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement on her first day in the White House. She also discussed her experience on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“What we’ve learned over time, is that [if] we’re going to get [the Farm Bill] passed… we need to have a coalition of people who care about nutrition, people who care about farming and people who care about conservation,” she said.

She said she wants to keep Farm Bill conservation programs strong.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): Hailing from the industrial “Rust Belt,” Ryan has little experience with rural areas, but he said he believes the two regions face many of the same issues and should come together politically. He spoke to opportunity in the clean energy and electric vehicle industries, which he would like to see driven into “distressed rural areas” to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

He also spoke about Farm Bill conservation programs; “These are the kind of programs we need to ‘beef up,’ no pun intended,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Senator Warren did not speak about sustainability directly. Her platform mainly focused on addressing monopolies in agribusiness to support small, family farmers. One of her proposals is to break up the Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, a merger that was heavily criticized by environmentalists. 

The Heartland Forum was moderated by Pulitzer prize-winner Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, and two reporters from HuffPost. Those news organizations organized the event alongside Open Markets Institute and the Iowa Farmers Union.

 

Biofuel: a battleground


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Biofuel has its issues as well as its benefits | Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 3rd, 2019

A surprisingly high amount of biofuel is produced in Iowa, but the products that fall under this category and the ways in which they are produced spark frequent controversy and debate.

To begin, let’s break down what “biofuels” actually are. Defined by National Geographic as “plant-based solutions to the Earth’s growing energy problems“, biofuels are sourced from plant matter instead of petroleum. Gasoline and diesel are technically also biofuels, being made from decomposed and fossilized plants, but they emit massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere–causing a number of dangerous effects that heavily contribute towards climate change. Biofuels are more specifically made from living plant matter.

Ethanol is an example of a common biofuel produced worldwide, and Iowa is a top producer. Ethanol can be made through fermentation and a breakdown of sugars and starches, making corn an ideal component. An increase in biofuel use, theoretically, should reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

There is some debate about the effectiveness of biofuels when taking into account everything required to harvest and process the crops needed for this form of energy, however, with many pointing out that despite its benefits, the production of ethanol leaves a large carbon footprint anyway. With Iowa being a major producer of ethanol, these arguments tend to converge on our cropland, and farmers are split on the issue, as biofuels provide some significant advantages over fossil fuels.

Setting debates aside, a common ground most debaters find themselves on is the desire to figure out a way to reduce our overall carbon footprint, and this is a journey that we will likely be on for a long, long while.

Mysterious group behind pro-‘Sunshine Tax’ ads


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A home solar generation unit (flickr).

Julia Poska| March 29, 2019

A group called the REAL Coalition has been targeting Iowans with ads in support of the SOLAR Act or ‘Sunshine Tax.’ The act would impose an over $300 annual fee on private solar power generators to cover their use of the electric grid, which many believe would kill solar power in Iowa.

Others, like MidAmerican Energy and the REAL Coalition, say the cost of maintaining the grid is unfairly shifted onto non-solar customers.

Josh Scheinblum from KCRG fact checked the coalition’s TV ad. The coalition claimed most energy in Iowa comes from “clean, renewables” while coal and other fossil fuels actually generate the majority. The ad also said solar panel owners use the grid more than others, who end up paying their share. Scheinblum spoke with a solar owner and consultant, who called that claim ridiculous.

“The whole point for solar is either to slow down or to stop the flow of energy flowing into the meter,” he said.

Little is known about the REAL Coalition. It formed as a non-profit in January and is not a registered as lobbying group or Political Action Committee. Their site says they “give voice to Iowa consumers, farmers and businesses on the energy issues affecting our state,” and gives no information about their leadership or funding sources.

A Little Village article describes them as a dark money group (“a nonprofit that engages in political activity but does not disclose its funders”) and details a vague encounter with a REAL Coalition telemarketer. Some suspect MidAmerican Energy is behind the group.

 

Fixing the renewable energy storage problem


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | March 13th, 2019

Electricity may seem like an intangible force, but, like other resources, it is stored when not in use.

There are currently many different methods of storing unused energy, but renewable sources of energy are more difficult to store than their fossil fuel conterparts. There are ways to store energy generated from the sun, for example, but the thermal method is still a costly one.

Many solar plants use large on-site batteries to store excess energy, but the energy from these batteries generally only provide a few extra hours of electricity for the plant’s respective grid.

Two different research teams–one lead by Sossina Haile at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and one by Ryan O’Hayre in Colorodo School of Mines–have developed lab versions of a more effective fuel cell that could store significantly more energy.

So much renewable energy is going to waste when it’s not stored to its full capacity. That’s why the development of a smaller, more cost-efficient fuel cell is exciting.

The teams warn that their improved fuel cells have only been tested on a small scale in labs, and that more work needs to be done before they can be used. If developed on a larger scale, the cell could make renewable energy cheaper overall.