UNI event focuses on ethics of energy production


The Campanile is a major landmark on the University of Northern Iowa campus. (Madmaxmarchh/WikiMedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | April 17, 2015

An event hosted by the University of Northern Iowa on Wednesday focused on ethical implications in the production of energy.

The event – “Ethics of Energy Production” – examined “economic effects, environmental impacts, legal aspects, agricultural viewpoints and employment prospects” in regard to how energy is produced in Iowa and abroad. Speakers addressed a handful of issues including: Concerns about how Iowa and the U.S. will meet future energy needs, the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline and Rock Island Clean Line projects, the approval process for proposed energy production projects, and how to have your voice heard in the discussion.

Attorney Justin LaVan discussed concerns Iowans have about the proposed Rock Island Clean Line which would pass through 16 counties in the state. According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, LaVan – who represents an alliance of landowners opposed to the proposed pipeline – pointed out that the project has received easement approval from 176 landowners. The project needs approval from 1,540 total landowners in order to pass. A February poll by the Des Moines Register found that the majority of Iowans support the pipeline but are against using eminent domain to accomplish the project.

David Osterberg – a clinical professor in Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa – served as a panelist at the event and discussed the impact that energy production has on climate change.

“[T]his particular industry is the bane of our existence in Iowa, because it hurt everything else, not only wind but also ethanol. They’re bad guys. Don’t give them a pipeline,” Osterberg said.

UNI business professor Craig Van Sandt was an organizer of the event and he focused on the impact that current energy production practices will have on future generations.

“They are going to affect our children, our grandchildren — and depending on your leanings — they affect animals in the environment as well,” he said.

Iowa lawmakers call for environmental review of Bakken oil pipeline project


Pump jacks on the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota (A.G. McCullian/Fickr).
Pump jacks on the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota (A.G. McCullian/Fickr)

Nick Fetty | March 12, 2015

Fifteen members of Iowa’s House of Representatives are asking the Iowa Utilities Board to conduct an independent environmental review of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline project which if approved would run approximately 1,100 miles through 17 Iowa counties.

The lawmakers requested the review among concerns about pipeline accidents that have occurred in several states including Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Texas. The letter outlined “eight concerns raised by citizens they feel should be investigated.”

1. Safety risks and hazards associated with the product(s) to be transported through the pipeline;

2. Potential damage to water, land, soil, water, air and wildlife/wildlife habitat during construction;

3. Threats to the environment, farmland, wildlife and public health as a result of spills or explosions;

4. Spill prevention and clean up provisions;

5. Liability for damages to both public and private property and sufficiency of resources to cover such liability;

6. Adequacy of inspection/monitoring/enforcement mechanisms and resources;

7. Responsibility for planning, training, and equipping for emergency response;

8. Indirect impacts of the oil extraction process facilitated by the pipeline that may affect public health and safety as well as environmental security.

Representatives who signed the letter include: Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines), Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids), Ruth Ann Gaines (D-Des Moines), Mary Gaskill (D-Ottumwa), Curt Hanson (D-Fairfield), Greg Heartsill (R-Melcher-Dalls), Charles Isenhart (D-Dubuque), Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton), Jerry Kearns (D-Keokuk), Dan Kelley (D-Newton), Bob Kressig (D-Cedar Falls), Vicki Lensing (D-Iowa City), Zach Nunn (R-Altoona), Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City), and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames).

A recent Des Moines Register poll found that 57 percent of Iowans surveyed were in favor of the Bakken pipeline project.

Poll: Iowans support oil pipeline and wind project but reject using eminent domain for them


Turbines from a wind farm in northwest Iowa. (Jim Hammer/Flickr)
Turbines from a wind farm in northwest Iowa. (Jim Hammer/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | March 5, 2015

Des Moines Register poll conducted last month has found that the majority of Iowans support a proposed oil pipeline and wind electricity transmission line which would pass through the state but oppose using eminent domain to accomplish the projects.

The poll shows that 57 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline which would cross through 17 counties diagonally across the state. Thirty-two percent opposed the project while 11 percent were not sure. The pipeline would transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. Critics of the project cite that it is an unwise investment at a time when the nation should be divesting from its reliance on fossil fuels while proponents say that it is safer than current transport methods such as by rail.

Sixty-four percent those surveyed supported the Rock Island Clean Line which would cover approximately 375 miles in Iowa transporting electricity generated by wind turbines to Illinois. Twenty-four percent were against it and 12 percent were not sure. The $2 billion project aims to build 200 wind turbines in the Hawkeye State. Proponents say that it offers more benefits than the Bakken project while opponents question the use of eminent domain to make it happen.

The poll also found that 74 percent of survey respondents opposed the use of eminent domain for either project, while 19 percent favored it and 7 percent were unsure. Officials with both projects are asking the Iowa Utility Board for permission to use eminent domain to carry out the proposals. Both projects would cover large parts of rural Iowa and farmers have been divided on the use of eminent domain.

On the Radio: Water demand strains Jordan Aquifer


Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
November 24, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at recent news surrounding Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Jordan Aquifer

Increased water demand in Iowa is straining one of the state’s largest underground aquifers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Des Moines Register reports that the Jordan Aquifer – which supplies about half a million Iowans with water – is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself.

Last year Iowa drew nearly 26 billion gallons from the aquifer which is a 72 percent increase since the 1970s. Nearly 200 businesses, municipalities, universities, and other entities tap into the Jordan Aquifer with about 345 wells across the state. Parts of southwest Iowa need to drill as deep as 2,500 feet underground to extract water from the aquifer.

This increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuels industry, which requires large quantities of purified water during the production process. Roughly 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production with some facilities using as much as 200 million gallons of water each year.

For more information about the Jordan Aquifer and water use in Iowa visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Iowa’s largest solar farm opens in Kalona


Nick Fetty | July 31, 2014

The largest solar array in Iowa will host its grand opening today in rural Kalona, approximately 25 miles southwest of Iowa City.

The array will feature 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This is almost three times the size of the state’s current largest solar array located on the north edge of the Luther College campus in Decorah. The Kalona farm is expected to generate about 1.1 million kilowatt hours per year which is enough energy to power roughly 120 homes.

The project is a collaboration between Farmers Electric Cooperative and Eagle Point Solar. Farmers Electric Cooperative was formed in 1916 and is based out of Frytown just north of Kalona. The cooperative provides electricity for about 650 members in rural eastern Iowa and aims to generate 15% of its energy using renewable sources by 2025.

Eagle Point Solar is a Dubuque-based solar panel company with more than a dozen projects in Dubuque, Peosta and New Vienna in Iowa as well as Galena and East Dubuque in Illinois. Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Eagle Point Solar was not violating state law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque generated by solar panels on the roofs of city buildings. The ruling was viewed as a major win for solar energy advocates.

In an editorial published in the Des Moines Register, CNA Corp.’s Military Advisory Board member Ronald Keys said renewable energy sources such as the Kalona solar farm “is good not just for Iowa’s economy and environment, but it also helps set the tone for how to secure our nation’s energy, economic and security future.”

EPA emissions plan less strict on Iowa


Nick Fetty | June 3, 2014
Photo via Payton Chung; Flickr
Photo via Payton Chung; Flickr

A plan by the EPA to reduce carbon gas emissions would be less stringent on Iowa because of a proactive investment in renewable energies, according to an article in the Des Moines Register.

The Plans calls for power plants nationally to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 30 percent by 2030. Iowa’s rate is nearly half the national average at 16 percent. Rate reductions for neighboring states are: Missouri by 21 percent, Nebraska by 26 percent, Illinois by 33 percent, Wisconsin by 34 percent, South Dakota by 35 percent, and Minnesota by 41 percent.

This interactive map shows what percent of each state’s energy comes from coal.

German energy company to move North American headquarters to Iowa


Photo via Theodore Scott; Flickr
Photo via Theodore Scott; Flickr
Nick Fetty | May 29, 2014

Alternative energy opportunities available in Iowa have attracted yet another company to set up shop in the Hawkeye State, according to an article in the Des Moines Register.

Windtest – a German energy company – announced Wednesday that it plans to build its North American headquarters in the northern Iowa town of Estherville. The operation is expected to be completed by late August of this year and will initially create five jobs with hopes that the number will double in the coming years. This project will be in collaboration with Iowa Lakes Community College and will be housed in the Sustainable Energy Resource Technology building on campus.

Windtest is just the latest company to announce plans for an Iowa operation. Last year, Google announced that it plans to expand its data center in Council Bluffs while Facebook is pursuing plans to a construct a data center in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona. Microsoft also plans to build a data center in West Des Moines.

The abundance of wind power and other alternative energy sources have helped to attract these companies which will bring millions of dollars and dozens of jobs to Iowa’s economy. According to the American Wind Industry Association, Iowa is number one in the nation for percentage of electricity generated by wind energy (27.4%) and is third – behind Texas and California – in the amount of wind energy produced.