On The Radio – Cedar Rapids power plant retires coal burning unit


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A view of industrial Cedar Rapids in 2013. (Arlen Breiholz/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 13, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how Alliant Energy recently added Cedar Rapids to its list of Iowa cities moving away from coal and toward natural gas.

Transcript: Alliant Energy began burning natural gas instead of coal in one of its largest energy units in Cedar Rapids last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Crews converted one of four coal-burning units at Prairie Creek Generation Station so that it could operate using natural gas last month. Upgrades to the more than 100 megawatt unit are expected to reduce the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter pollution by 50 percent.

Alliant Energy has also recently transitioned from coal to natural gas at plants in Marshalltown, Dubuque, Council Bluffs, Bettendorf and Clinton. Prairie Creek Generation Station is expected to be coal free by 2025.

While coal still provides 47 percent of Iowa’s energy, that number has decreased significantly in recent years. Wind energy provides the second largest percentage of Iowa’s electricity, making up 36.6 percent of the total energy picture.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Linn County solar energy group buy far exceeds expectations


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Solar installations will be provided by Moxie Solar, founded in 2008 and based in North Liberty, Iowa. (growsolar.org)
Jenna Ladd | October 19, 2017

Homeowners in Linn County were encouraged to combine their buying power to significantly reduce the cost of installing solar panels this summer through the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative.

Organized by the City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County, The Nature Conservancy, Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa 350 and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), participants were offered a significant per Watt (W) discount each time the volume of buyers surpassed program tiers. The base price for participants was $2.45/W. All participants received a $0.05/W discount each time the group buy reached one of four milestones: 50 kilowatts (kW), 150 kW, 250 kW, and 350 kW.

The program offered a total of 23 educational sessions, or Solar Power Hours, for interested parties to learn more about the evolving solar industry and this initiative.

Amy Drahos is a Senior Air Quality Scientist at Linn County Public Health. She said in a recent press release, “The community support for the Solarize program has been incredible. Nearly 500 people attended a Solar Power Hour or requested more information about the program, with 105 households deciding to install solar. This program was a success thanks to the enthusiastic response from Linn County citizens and the dedicated community partners who recognize the benefits of solar energy.”

In the end, 105 households signed up to install solar panel systems, and the initiative nearly double its highest goal of 350 kW, installing a total of 611 kW. The large group buy means that participants will receive a rebate of $200 per kilowatt installed, or an average of $1,164 per household.

Cedar Rapids Sustainability Coordinator, Eric Holthaus, commented on the city’s role in the program, “The City served as an educational partner in this program.  Solar technology ten years ago is not the same as solar today.  We enjoyed helping residents become informed on this energy option, and it looks like many were excited to take a step toward cleaner energy and lower utility bills.”

The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative also provides a substantial environmental payoff. It is estimated that program participants will generate a combined total of nearly 700,000 kWh of clean solar energy annually. MREA reports that 927,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and 14 million gallons of water will be offset by this initiative during the first year alone.

The MREA has implemented this program in several other parts of the Midwest including Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Urbana-Champaign and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. However, “The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program contributed the highest kW contracted to date,” according to MREA Executive Director, Nick Hylla. He added, “There is obviously a tremendous amount of interest in solar energy in eastern Iowa.”

The program wrapped up on September 30th. All solar installations will be completed by December 31, 2017.

Linn County joins growing coalition still committed to Paris Climate Accord


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The Linn County Board of Supervisors recently voted to stay committed to the Paris Climate Agreement. (cedar-rapids.org)
Jenna Ladd | July 18, 2017

The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Monday to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord, despite President Trump’s withdrawal at the federal level.

Linn County joins a group of more than 1,200 mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors that make up the We Are Still In coalition. An open letter from the coalition, which makes up more than $6 trillion of the U.S. economy, reads:

“In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.”

Iowa City, Johnson County, Des Moines and Fairfield are also members of the coalition.

Following the board’s decision, businesses, local organizations and local leaders spoke during a news conference. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said, “Leadership on the tough issues can originate at the local level. One community can make a difference, this is our hope here today,” according to a report from The Gazette.

Local leaders emphasized that to keep the U.S.’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent before 2025, coalition members must walk-the-talk. Walker continued, “In absence of leadership in the federal government, the job is up to us locally.”

Linn County voters overwhelmingly support conservation ballot measure


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Indian Creek is one of many waterways in Linn County which will benefit from the $40 million conservation bond passed on Tuesday. (Flickr/Carl Wycoff)
Jenna Ladd | November 11, 2016

Despite a divisive national political climate, voters in Linn County spoke with one voice in favor of conservation measures in their county on Tuesday.

Introduced by the Linn County Conservation Board, the ballot measure proposed a $40 million bond to be used for land and water conservation efforts in the county. Unlike other ballot measures in the state, which are typically decided by razor-thin margins, the conservation bond proposal passed with over 74 percent voter approval. The Linn County Conservation Board plans to use 55 percent of the funds for water quality and land protection, 30 percent for parks, and 15 percent for trail improvements. The group has issued a list of 30 potential projects which include wetland development along the Cedar and Wapsipinicon Rivers and several smaller creeks, woodland restoration, native prairie restoration, and improvements to outdoor recreation facilities.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said that this year’s September floods in Cedar Rapids may have influenced the voters’ decision. He said, “We’re coming off the September flooding event that raised to the top of people’s minds how important watershed management is. Many people I visited with about this subject matter looked at this as water quality and watershed management.” Linn County Conservation Deputy Director Dennis Goemaat agreed. He said, “People value their recreation and water quality in natural areas.”

Goemaat added that the board wants to begin working with  Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other invested groups as soon as possible in order to work on funding the projects. It will take time to raise the $40 million, representatives say, but Mayor Corbett is hopeful that the success of the ballot measure will encourage legislators to allocate money to the Iowa DNR’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund of 2010, which funds Iowa DNR programs.

Hillary Hughes is vice-president of the Linn County Conservation Board. She said, “This is an affirmation vote. I think this should demonstrate to lawmakers statewide that conservation is important to citizens of Iowa.”

On The Radio – Flood barriers protect Cedar Rapids


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Workers stand on a flood wall made of Hesco barriers on the bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)
Jake Slobe | October 3, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the flooding that recently took place in Cedar Rapids.

Transcript: An intricate system of temporary floodwalls largely protected Cedar Rapids homes and businesses Tuesday as the river that runs through the city reached its second-highest peak ever.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

City officials said the ten-mile system of Hesco barriers erected over the weekend was largely successful in holding back the rising Cedar River. The barriers were quickly assembled along the river at a cost of five to six million dollars over the course of a few days. The city also deployed 250,000 sandbags, many of which remained dry and can be recycled.

The city received good news as the river crested at 22.1 feet, three feet lower than previous estimates. That was nine feet below the 2008 flood that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in the worst natural disaster in Iowa history.

City crews worked all through the night before the crest to patch any weaknesses in the barrier system and prepare to pump out any water that seeped through the barriers or came up through the saturated ground.

Cedar Rapids deserves high marks for its preparedness and response.

To learn more about the flooding, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

On The Radio – New Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator provides multifaceted momentum


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Eric Holthaus (second from right) leading a waste audit with students in 2013 at the University of Iowa, where he served as Recycling Coordinator from 2012 to 2015. (Lev Cantoral/University of Iowa)
Jenna Ladd | August 8, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment takes a closer look at Cedar Rapid’s first-ever sustainability coordinator and University of Iowa graduate, Eric Holthaus. 

Transcript: New Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator provides multifaceted momentum

Cedar Rapids has hired its first-ever sustainability coordinator.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Eric Holthaus, a University of Iowa graduate, was hired on to provide focus and strategy to existing city-wide sustainability initiatives and to spearhead new efforts. Since beginning his work with the city in November, he helped implement a 90 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of the Northwest Cedar Rapids Transit Garage and establish a policy that prohibits city vehicles from idling for longer than one minute.

Upon his hire, Holthaus created a 21-point sustainability assessment of the city. In addition to other findings, he notes that Cedar Rapids has clean drinking water, but difficulty with “food deserts,” or areas of town where populations have restricted access to food.

At the end of June, Holthaus and his team released a document titled, “State of Affairs: Cedar Rapids’ Pursuit of Sustainability.” The document lays a foundational definition for sustainability and why it matters to people in Cedar Rapids.

To Holthaus, sustainability reaches beyond environmental issues,

HOLTHAUS: “And so sustainability to me is be able to have a high quality of life, and it also means to me to connect the social and economic aspects. A lot of people don’t meet their daily needs, you know, if there’s an opportunity for us to eat better, to have cleaner water, to have more access to those resources, how can prioritize people that have the least and build stronger communities when we do that intentionally?”

Cedar Rapids is only the third city in the Hawkeye state to create a sustainability coordinator position, following Iowa City and Dubuque.

To learn more about Eric’s position, or to read more about Cedar Rapids’ sustainability goals, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.

For the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

 

 

Central College becomes fourth Iowa school to join Alliance for Resilient Campuses


Nick Fetty | July 10, 2014
Central College Pond on the Central College campus in Pella, Iowa. Photo by Central College Alumni; Flickr
Central College Pond on the Central College campus in Pella, Iowa.
Photo by Central College Alumni; Flickr

Central College has become the most recent higher education institute in Iowa to join the Alliance for Resilient Campuses.

Central – a liberal arts college with 1,486 undergrads located in Pella, Iowa – is among 35 other colleges and universities across the nation that aim to “respond to the challenges of climate change and work to ensure greater community resilience.”

In 2003, the Vermeer Science Center at Central College became the first building on an Iowa campus to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The Alliance for Resilient Campuses is an initiative by Second Nature, a nonprofit Boston-based organization that aims “to create a sustainable society by transforming higher education.” The group was founded in 1993 and the Alliance for Resilient Campuses was started in May of this year.

Three other Iowa institutes are members of the Alliance for Resilient Campuses: Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Drake University in Des Moines, and Iowa Lakes Community College with campuses in Algona, Emmetsburg, Estherville, Spencer and Spirit Lake.