Solar Installations Could Save Local Governments $375 Million


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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.

Des Moines City Council Approves Transition to 100% Renewable Energy


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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.

New Report Suggests Human Health is Threatened by Plastics


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Thomas Robinson | December 22nd, 2020

A recent report by the Endocrine Society, and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) presents a concerning summary of the widespread health effects from plastic pollution.

Within the report, around 144 hazardous chemicals are highlighted because they are used in plastics for a variety of purposes, such as flame retardants, and because they are hazardous for human health.  These chemicals can leach from the plastic products throughout the entire lifespan of the material increasing the potential for human exposure.  Unfortunately, human exposure has been measured and the study reports that nearly everyone tested for endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), tested positive.  While testing positive for EDCs doesn’t mean the person tested has acute health risks, little is known about what chronic exposure to a mix of the 144 chemicals culminates in.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that influence how hormones in the body behave and are commonly linked to developmental and reproductive issues.  Some of these chemicals are widely known, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), while others, such as Per- and Polyfluoroalkly substances (PFAS) are beginning to capture attention.

It is projected that plastic production is likely to increase within the next six years, and as plastic production increases, so too does human exposure to these harmful chemicals.  Effective public policy is needed to gain a better understanding of how the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing influence human health, and how to address human exposure to them.

Iowa Drops to #36 in National Energy Efficiency Rankings


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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


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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.

Iowa City Climate Fest – Day Two: Taco ‘bout a sustainable lifestyle


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Thomas Robinson | September 22, 2020

Iowa City’s Climate Fest begins its second day and will be focused on sustainable lifestyles.

The title for the second day of the fest is “Taco ‘bout a sustainable lifestyle” and the personal challenge is to eat a plant-based meal.  Local restaurants are participating in the climate fest and can be found using this map for taco options.  A plant based diet has been shown to positively influence land use which can help to slow climate change.    

For Tuesday’s community event, FilmScene will be hosting the movie The Biggest Little Farm online for free.  The movie can be watched at any point during the day, but Iowa City’s Climate Action staff will be live tweeting the film starting at 7 pm.  The movie will be followed by a discussion beginning at 8:30 and will include panelists from the Climate Action Division, Field to Family, and Film Scene.

Food, Justice and Environmental Groups Start #BoycottBigMeat Campaign


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Nicole Welle | July 16, 2020

The #BoycottBigMeat campaign launched Tuesday and calls for consumers to boycott meat products from large corporations.

Over 50 organizations are backing the campaign, including Iowa Sunrise Hub, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture. Those behind the effort cite a number of issues with large-scale meat producers including worker safety, animal welfare, consumer health and environmental impact, according to a Public News Service article.

While some groups involved in the campaign are focusing on holding corporations accountable for exploiting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, others are hoping to confront longstanding issues with the negative impacts these businesses have on the environment. Feed sourcing is a leading cause of natural prairie loss in the Midwest, and the chemicals and fertilizers used to treat the fields that grow feed crops are polluting waterways, according to Clean Water Action. Large corporations are also responsible for huge carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

“We really want to push for policy that helps to transform these rural communities where these operations exist – these industrial operations, meat-packing plants, as well as the concentrated animal feeding operations – that we want to help transition to a better food system,” said Sherri Dugger, executive director at the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

The coalition hopes that consumers and policymakers will help promote local producers who sell products considered organic and regenerative that come from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals.

Iowa Farmers Join Initiatives that Pay Them to Reduce Carbon Emissions


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Nicole Welle | June 22, 2020

An increasing number of Iowa Farmers have begun growing cover crops as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Carbon farming involves growing cover crops, like cereal rye, in alternating rows with crops like soybeans and refraining from tilling fields. These practices increase the level of nutrients in the soil, help prevent erosion, and can help sequester more carbon in the ground.

While carbon farming is not hugely profitable now, many farmers are getting paid to participate in these initiatives. It can help farmers who are currently struggling with low corn and soybean prices reach profitability, and it leaves them with healthier soil and a more sustainable way to farm, according to a Hawk Eye article.

Sequestering carbon in the soil also comes with a number of environmental benefits. The stored carbon in the ground is cut off from contact with the atmosphere where it would combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. By reducing erosion, it also improves the health of Iowa’s rivers, lakes, streams and wildlife.

Advances in Carbon Capture and Storage are on Track to Meet Global Warming Mitigation Targets


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Nicole Welle | May 25, 2020

Researchers at Imperial College London found that the current growth of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is on track to meet climate change mitigation goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The study shows that a maximum of 2,700 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be captured and stored to keep global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The IPCC recognized that CCS will be crucial in achieving this goal when implemented alongside efforts to increase clean energy use, according to a ScienceDaily article.

CCS is a process that involves capturing CO2 emissions at their source and storing it underground to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. Researchers combined data collected over the last 20 years on the growth of CCS, information on historic growth rates in energy infrastructure, and current models that monitor the depletion of natural resources to determine the maximum storage space required.

Past estimates revealed that there is actually more that 10,000 GT of potential carbon storage space available across the globe, a number that far exceeds the amount needed to meet the goals defined in the analysis. The current rate of growth in available storage space is on track to meet demands, but it is crucial that research and efforts to maintain this growth continue.

The Imperial College research team took into consideration the possibility of multiple climate change mitigation scenarios that might occur in the future, and they determined that even the most ambitious of scenarios would require no more that 2,700 GT of CCS. However, that number could increase over time if future deployment of CCS is delayed.

A New Report Reveals a 24% Increase in the Number of Companies Asking Suppliers for Environmental Transparency


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Nicole Welle | May 21, 2020

CDP, an environmental non-profit organization, recently announced a 24% increase in the number of companies asking for environmental data reports from their suppliers this year.

CDP helps investors, companies, cities, states and regions manage their environmental impacts by providing them with a global disclosure system that measures and interprets environmental data, according to the CDP website. 30 new purchasing systems began working with CDP to help manage their supply chains more sustainably, and over 15,000 environmental transparency requests were sent to suppliers this year, according to an Environment + Energy Leader article.

Companies are asking suppliers to disclose information regarding their impacts on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and climate change. Organizations that utilize CDP resources can use the information collected to make more sustainable, informed decisions when working with suppliers.

CDP is a global organization, but their biggest spike in participants this year came from North America. Nike, Nordstrom and The Clorox Company were three of the 17 North American companies that joined this year, adding to CPD’s list of members which already includes companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Stanley Black and Decker.