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.

Gov. Reynolds Calls for a $2 Million Increase in Aid for Biofuels


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | January 28, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that her state budget calls for a $2 million increase in funding for the biofuels industry, and she hopes to work with the Biden Administration to help the industry further recover from setbacks caused by the pandemic.

Gov. Reynolds spoke at the virtual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, an annual event that brings together government officials, industry professionals and activists from across the Midwest to discuss the future of biofuels. She said that her $2 million addition to the $3 million renewable fuel infrastructure program would help to convert gas pumps to accommodate higher blends of ethanol. The program would also receive an additional $5 million from a change in fuel retailer tax credits under Reynolds’ plan, according to an Iowa Capitol Dispatch article.

The funds would add to the combined $19 million in CARES Act federal relief aid that the state used to back retail outlets and keep ethanol refineries open last year. Reynolds and several other summit speakers said that they hope the Biden administration will bring new attention to biofuels as it moves to address climate change. Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have also joined Reynolds in fighting the EPA’s exemptions that allow small refineries to avoid required biofuels blending, and Reynolds hopes the new EPA administrator will discontinue the exemptions this year.

President Biden has made reducing carbon emissions one of his top priorities. Summit speaker Emily Skor, CEO of biofuels trade organization Growth Energy, said that growing the biofuels industry will accelerate the country’s transition to the zero-emissions future that Biden has advocated for. She added that biofuels have accounted for 75% of California’s carbon emissions reductions over the past ten years, and they will greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels over time.

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.

Controversial Aviation Greenhouse Gas Emission Rule Finalized by the EPA


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | December 29th, 2020

The EPA has finalized a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standard for aviation that was made public in July, the first standard for the country.

The new GHG standard works to regulate U.S aviation emissions into compliance with similar standards made by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  The new standards have not been projected to reduce emissions, and the EPA believes that any changes made by manufacturers were likely to happen regardless of the implementation of new standards.

Unfortunately, critics argue that the new rule will fail to effectively address climate change and represents a continuation of the “do-nothing” status quo.  Toxic contaminants and particulate matter are not addressed in the new rule, both of which can result in negative health outcomes for communities close to airports.  In October, the EPA was charged by 11 states to strengthen the finalized rule which has been described as “entirely insufficient.”

Approximately 2% of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted by the aviation industry.  While significant advances have been made recently in alternative fuels and fuel efficiency, the U.S has observed growth in the aviation sector which will only increase GHG emissions.

Iowa Drops to #36 in National Energy Efficiency Rankings


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | December 21, 2020

Iowa may be one of the nation’s leaders in renewable energy production, but the state fell short in this year’s national energy efficiency rankings, dropping 13 spots since 2019 and landing at #36. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the organization that created the rankings, says that poor state legislation is to blame.

In 2018, the state passed a bill that added restrictions to state energy efficiency programs. Another bill passed in 2019 placed caps on certain energy investments, and Iowa now gives customers the option to opt out of paying for energy efficiency programs that fail to pass a cost-effectiveness test. ACEEE also noted that Iowa lacks performance incentives for utilities, has not studied buildings’ compliance with energy efficiency standards since 2011 and has not updated conservation codes since 2012, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

All of these factors have stalled progress toward reducing gas and electricity use in Iowa and explain why Iowa took the biggest drop of any state on the list this year. However, ACEEE also noted that Iowa did adopt a new energy plan in 2016 that called for modernizing the electrical grid, promoting alternative-fuel vehicles, expanding natural gas service and increasing building efficiencies. The state is still working towards the goals outlined in that plan, and it is considering adopting the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) as a baseline for building energy codes used in residential and commercial construction. It is currently working from the 2012 version of the IECC.

California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota were at the top of ACEEE’s list, and Kansas, Mississippi, and North Dakota were at the bottom. ACEEE’s rankings are based on transportation, utility and public benefits policies, state government initiatives and appliance and building efficiencies. States are given a score out of 50, and Iowa is currently below the national median score in every category, according to Iowa’s ACEEE scorecard.

In order to improve the state’s ranking on next year’s list, the Iowa state government will need to reassess recent policy changes and consider updating the state’s outdated energy efficiency standards.

Proposed Climate Resolution Triggers Debate in Des Moines City Council Meeting


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | December 10, 2020

Des Moines city council members debated a proposed city resolution that would transition the city’s electric users to 100% renewable energy by 2030 earlier this week.

Councilman Josh Mandelbaum, who supports the proposal, debated with Councilman Joe Gatto over a potential conflict of interest. Gatto accused Mandelbaum of the conflict because Mandelbaum is the senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Des Moines office, a non-profit organization that supports renewable energy, aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the retirement of coal plants. Gatto said he would not support any resolution Mandelbaum writes because of his ties with the organization, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

After hearing about the proposal, MidAmerican Energy warned that the move could be too bold. The company is a large, investor-owned utility and has a powerful political presence in Iowa, and council members in the meeting expressed the importance of passing a resolution that MidAmerican will agree with in. MidAmerican has retired some of its coal plants across the state and invests heavily in wind energy, but it expressed concern over the cost of Mandelbaum’s proposal, saying that monthly electric bills would more than triple for homeowners under his plan. MidAmerican suggested adding small modular nuclear power stations to help meet the plan’s emissions goals and lower costs, and it said it would continue to shift away from coal power over time rather than rushing it to avoid blackouts.

Councilwoman Linda Westergaard sided with Gatto in opposing the resolution, and she called for a more cost-effective proposal that aligns with MidAmerican’s goals. Other officials in the meeting echoed her desire for a more conservative approach while some, like Jeremy Caron, Des Moines’ sustainability program manager, expressed the need for “bold but achievable goals.” Caron said that a bold plan like Mandelbaum’s could attract workers to the city and give it a reputation as sustainable.

Mandelbaum added that his proposal would increase jobs in renewable energy and bring in federal aid since it aligns with the Biden administration’s commitment to reducing emissions. However, it is unlikely that the council will have a final proposal ready by the end of the year as planned, and discussion will likely continue into 2021.

Johnson Clean Energy District 2020 Virtual Clean Energy Tour


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | November 24th, 2020

The Johnson Clean Energy District (JCED) held a virtual tour of solar energy installations across Johnson County this past Friday.

The event was held to celebrate and discuss clean energy transitions occurring within the county.  The tour included the Prairie Hill Cohousing site, the Johnson County solar power installation by the county building, and an installation at Herbet Farms.  Attendees included state legislators and community members who are involved in the district.

Clean energy districts are local groups that strive to speed up transitions to clean energy. These organizations have been styled after the soil and water conservation districts that emerged in the 1930s following the Dust Bowl.  The first district formed in Iowa was the Winneshiek Energy District and the idea has spread to surrounding states like Illinois and Wisconsin.  The JCED works for homeowners and businesses alike, through education on available energy incentives, as well as their STEP program that installs energy efficiency measures directly in homes.

In a recent brief, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has confirmed that solar energy is the cheapest electricity in history.  Their report emphasizes the importance of a clean energy transition, and the potential cost reductions it could bring for consumers around the world and right here in Iowa.

Gov. Reynolds Directs CARES Acts Funds to Iowa Biofuel Producers and Renewable Fuel Retailers


Via Flickr

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that $100 million of CARES Act funds will go to several agricultural sectors in Iowa.

Iowa is directing $15.5 million in grants to biofuel producers and $7 million to renewable fuel retailers. Both sectors suffered during the early stages of the pandemic when demand for gasoline dropped, and renewable fuel producers did not receive any funds directly through the CARES Act at that time, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, says that he is grateful for the funds since as much as half of Iowa’s ethanol production came to a halt during the worst stages of the pandemic. He hopes that the money will give producers more time to recover and help prevent plants from being permanently closed. As of this week, production has resumed to around 85 to 95 percent of capacity.

Reynolds directed the remaining funds to livestock programs, new farmers, meat processors, fruit and vegetable growers and the schools that buy their produce from local growers.

The Iowa Environmental Council Strives for 100% Renewable Energy in Iowa by 2050


Photo by Bill Devlin, Flickr

Nicole Welle | April 23rd, 2020

The Iowa Environmental Council released Tuesday a report called “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable“. The report lays out the steps necessary for Iowa to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, a goal that many other states across the U.S. have already set for themselves in recent years.

The IEC concluded that, by 2050, Iowa will need to generate 30,000 to 61,000 MW of wind and 5,000 to 46,000 MW of solar energy to fully transition to renewable sources. The state currently generates 10,000 MW of wind and 110 MW of solar energy.

That sets a wide range, but the IEC analysis incorporated 12 studies on renewable energy growth with a variety of unknown variables. Electrification of fossil fuel sectors, like transportation, may increase exponentially by 2050, resulting in a higher demand for electricity. This, along with the current rate of general increase in electric demand, could alter the amount of renewable energy Iowa requires. The report also considers studies that incorporate the possible use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage as additional renewable energy options.

Iowa is currently one of the country’s leading producers of wind energy. According to an article posted by T&DWorld, Iowa generated 41.9% of its electricity using wind in 2019. However, continued growth of wind energy necessary for the plan’s success will require increasing support from Iowa’s government and residents.

Some support has waned in recent years. Renewable energy tax credits have reached their capacity, according to The Iowa Utilities Board, and some Iowans have become wary of the number of wind turbines dotting the countryside across the state. Public concern over the land and resources required to expand wind energy production is a hurdle that must be faced before the goals outlined in “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable” can be reached.

Solar Jobs Census shows an Increase in American Solar Jobs for 2019


Photo via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | April 21, 2020

Almost 250,000 Americans worked in solar jobs as of 2019, a 2.3% increase since 2018 as reported in the 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census.  The solar industry is seeing an increase in employment after decreasing numbers the past two years.  The results of the census are summarized in an interactive website which provides data for each state down to the county scale.

Iowa employed over 800 people with solar jobs in 2019, ranking 39th in the country.  While not a leader in solar energy, Iowa is the state with the second highest wind energy capacity, with wind energy representing more than a third of the state’s electricity production as of 2016.  Renewable energy represents almost two-fifths of Iowa’s electricity generation, and the proportion is only expected to continue to increase.

Employment in solar nationally has increased by over 167% within the past decade alongside a 70% drop in cost within the same time frame.  To ensure the future of solar energy, an MIT study suggests that government policies are required to incentivize it’s use and to continue the growth caused by the continuing drop in prices.