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.

Iowa City and MidAmerican may team up on solar project


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A cheerful row of solar panels (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 5, 2020

MidAmerican Energy has proposed its first-ever solar energy project: a public-private partnership with the City of Iowa City.

The city would lease nearly 19 unused acres at Waterworks Prairie Park to MidAmerican for 30 years, installing 10,000 solar panels, according to The Gazette. The energy generated would be able to power 580 average Iowa homes, a MidAmerican representative said in the article.

The Iowa City City Council will hold a hearing on the proposal later this month. If the city approves the plan, it will receive annual payment for the land.

The project would not impact the park’s walking trail. The Gazette reported that the land in question is currently planted with prairie, which would be replaced with “low-growth pollinators and perennials.”

 

 

 

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals


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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.

 

5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.

 

 

2019 Iowa Climate Statement Video


Kasey Dresser| December 16, 2019

The Iowa Climate Statement video has officially been uploaded to our website. You can watch the video again here, or access it at any time under the Iowa Climate Statement tab.

The statement, released on September 18, warns Iowans and Midwesterners of sobering extreme heat projections for the region. Based on the most up‐to‐date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in the coming decades.

Betsy Stone, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Iowa, reads this year’s statement in the video above. Access the full written statement here.

Gov. Reynolds supports biofuel industry with Tuesday exec. order


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A bus displays that it runs on biodiesel (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 4, 2019

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order declaring that future diesel engine vehicles purchased by the state must be able to use 20% biodiesel Tuesday at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting.

The Iowa Department of Transportation fleet has already been using B20 biodiesel since 1994, a press release  said. While the order may not drastically change Iowa’s existing vehicle purchase tendencies, it is a gesture of support to an industry long dissatisfied with federal biofuel policies.

Iowa farmers and others have for months expressed displeasure with the Trump administration’s repeated Renewable Fuel Standard exemptions to oil refineries. The exemptions undercut what would otherwise be guaranteed demand for biofuel, and several failed ethanol plants have blamed the exemptions for their closure.

Environmentalists and other stakeholders argue about the environmental benefits of ethanol and biodiesel. The fuels reduce fossil fuel use and emissions but are produced through resource-intensive agriculture, which expends almost as much energy as the fuels store.

The fuels are pivotal to Iowa’s economy regardless. A Des Moines Register article about the executive order said Iowa is the nation’s biggest ethanol and biodiesel producer.

Poet plant ‘production pause’ furthers cellulosic ethanol’s historic challenges


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Cellulosic ethanol is produced from crop residue, like the material depicted above (via Creative Commons) .

Julia Poska | November 20, 2019

An Iowa plant that produces ethanol from cellulose found in corn residue announced Tuesday that it will stop commercial operations in February.

Cellulosic ethanol is widely regarded as a more environmentally friendly version of the plant-based fuel because it provides a use for waste products like cobs and stalks rather than an incentive to put more land into industrial corn production.

Typical ethanol, made from corn kernels, has an “energy return on investment” (EROI) of less than 2:1, most sources agree. This means that the fuel supplies only about as much energy as was put into growing and refining the product. Researchers believe EROI for cellulosic ethanol could be somewhat higher than for corn-based ethanol, but still much lower than for other energy sources.

Despite the apparent benefits, cellulosic ethanol has been slow to take off. The Renewable Fuels Association 2019 Ethanol Industry Outlook report indicated that cellulosic sources provide only about 3.4% of U.S. ethanol production capacity.

The Des Moines Register reported that personnel of the plant, owned by POET, blamed the “pause” in production on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for granting Renewable Fuel Standard exemptions to oil refineries in recent years. The RFS sets minimum levels of biofuel that gasoline and diesel must contain, so exemptions reduce what would otherwise be a guaranteed demand for biofuel.

Cellulosic ethanol production has lagged behind forecasts since it first entered commercial purview, however.  In 2007, the Bush administration called for 100 million and 250 million gallons of commercial cellulosic ethanol production in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Actual commercial production did not begin until 2012, according to MIT Technology Review.

In July 2018, ethanolproducer.com thought national production of cellulosic ethanol could top 15 million gallons, far behind the EPA’s goal of 7 billion gallons for that year.

The POET cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa opened in 2014, according to the Register. The facility cost $275 million to build and received about $120 million in state and federal incentives. The plant has a capacity to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, according to POET, and has spent years working on “optimizing” the production process to reach full capacity.

The plant will continue doing “research and development” on cellulosic ethanol while producing regular corn ethanol at another plant next door, according to the Register. Another cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa closed in 2017, the Register also reported.

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- Carbon dioxide’s effect on record high temperatures


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Sunrise (flickr/uditha wickramanayaka)

Kasey Dresser| July 8, 2019

This week’s segment looks at the influence of carbon dioxide on the record high-temperature levels this year. 

Transcript: 

Ocean carbon dioxide levels hit a new record early this month, as it was 84 degrees near the Arctic Ocean.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Temperatures rose to 84 degrees in the northwest of Russian near the entrance of the Arctic Ocean, a rural area in eastern Russia where the average high temperature is around 54 degrees this time of year. 

Many locations around Russia set record high temperatures. This particular heat wave, a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.

In the meantime, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere surpassed 415 parts per million for the first time in recorded history — the highest in at least 800,000 years, and possibly the highest levels in over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

These numbers altogether serve as indicators of the damages done by modern civilization to the environment and the contributions humans have made towards climate change.

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.