MidAmerican Energy parent to invest $15 billion in renewables


(Don Graham / Flickr)
(Don Graham / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | July 28, 2015

The parent company for MidAmerican Energy has pledged to invest $15 billion in renewable energy construction and operation, in addition to another $15 billion already invested through 2014.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which acquired MidAmerican in 2000, recently joined twelve other behemoth U.S. companies including Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Walmart in the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a partnership that aims to help the Obama administration reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 26-28% by 2025. The pledged investments would help Berkshire Hathaway expand its wind portfolio to 57% of its total retail energy load by 2017.

The company would also expand its investments in solar energy and, perhaps most importantly for Iowans, make infrastructure improvements that would help better integrate renewables into the existing power grid. Elsewhere in the country, Berkshire Hathaway plans to retire 75% of its energy produced from coal in Nevada by 75%.

Several of the companies that signed the pledge Monday have a significant Iowa presence, including Cargill and Google. Google boasts a 35% renewable energy rate for all of its operations, but hopes to reach 100% renewables. Cargill claims 16% energy efficiency gains since 2005, and aims to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from beef production.

On the Radio: Iowans look to energy policy when choosing presidential candidates


(Daniel Morrison / Flickr)
(Daniel Morrison / Flickr)

July 20, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent poll that shows Iowans consider energy policies when choosing presidential candidates. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Poll on Energy Policy

Iowa voters consider energy production to be a major factor when selecting candidates for the upcoming presidential election.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

An April poll by the Consumer Energy Alliance found that 82 percent of registered Iowa voters said that they consider the energy policies of presidential hopefuls to be a major factor when selecting a candidate. The poll also found that 52 percent of Iowans support offshore drilling for oil in U.S. waters near Alaska, while 32 percent opposed it. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finds that there are approximately 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Alaska outer continental shelf.

Proponents of offshore drilling say that it will create jobs and lead to energy independence, while opponents cite environmental concerns with the drilling as well as with the drilling of fossil fuels.

For more information about the poll, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Eastern Iowa gets its first Tesla station


A Tesla electric car being charged (Windell Oskay / Flickr)
A Tesla electric car being charged (Windell Oskay / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | July 14, 2015

Two Tesla cars got their first charge in eastern Iowa last week.

The fully electric cars were part of a ribbon cutting ceremony at a new Tesla charging station at Bass Family Farms along Highway 30 in Mt. Vernon. Tesla owners can use the charging station for free, which draws power from one of the farm’s buildings.

Bass Family Farms, a chemical-free farm, is now part of Tesla’s Destination Charging Program, which partners with businesses like hotels and restaurants to provide destinations for Tesla owners to charge. It’s part of a growing effort to increase electric car traffic in places with charging stations few and far between. A Tesla Model S can go 265 miles on a single charge, and charging can take several hours depending on the power source. Tesla’s growing Supercharger infrastructure boasts half charge times of just 30 minutes.

While road trips through Iowa can be difficult with only a few charging stations spread along the state’s highways, at-home charging is becoming an increasingly viable option. Tesla has partnered with solar energy provider SolarCity to make home solar panel installation more affordable, meaning Tesla drivers could have a zero emission commute.

Iowa considers state energy plan


Data from the American Wind Energy Association shows that Iowa leads the nation in percentage of electricity generated from wind energy: 28 percent in 2014. (Bill Whittaker/Wikipedia)

Nick Fetty | July 8, 2015

Iowa is one of just ten states that does not have its own state energy plan but that could soon change.

On Monday the Iowa Economic Development Authority along with the Iowa Department of Transportation released a request for qualifications (RFQ) to find potential candidates to help state leaders develop an energy plan. The plan will assess current and former energy supply and demand in the state, examine currently existing programs and policies, and identify potential challenges and opportunities.

Once a bidder is chosen for this project, working groups will be formed to help develop the plan. The groups will focus on four main categories: Economic Development and Energy Careers, Iowa’s Energy Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Energy Efficiency and Conservation. The groups will also address several subtopics including assessing energy workforce needs/ requirements from an industry perspective, leveraging Iowa’s biomass resources for development of biofuels and biorenewable chemicals, alternative fuels and movement of goods, energy assurance/security and strategies to lower energy demand. Additionally, five energy forums will also be hosted across the state as a way to get public input on energy issues.

Data compiled by the Iowa Energy Office shows that the Hawkeye State ranks 11th nationally for energy efficiency, 2nd nationally for wind energy generation, and was responsible for producing over 25 percent of the nation’s ethanol.

Interested bidders must submit their qualification before August 7 to be considered for this project.

On the Radio: Energy from manure to receive a boost


(dmblue444/Flickr)
(dmblue444/Flickr)
June 8, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks to a new standard that could give a boost to an energy industry that utilizes animal manure. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Energy from manure to receive a boost

BY NICK FETTY

A RECENT CHANGE BY THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, COULD BOOST AN ENERGY INDUSTRY IN IOWA THAT UTILIZES ANIMAL MANURE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

LAST SUMMER, THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY REVISED ITS RENEWABLE FUELS STANDARD TO GIVE BIOGAS MORE VALUE IN THE FUEL MARKETPLACE. THIS HAS MADE IT SO THAT THE FUELS DERIVED FROM ANIMAL MANURE AND OTHER SOURCES CAN BETTER COMPETE WITH BIOFUELS SUCH AS ETHANOL. METHANE GAS IN PARTICULAR CAN BE EXTRACTED FROM THESE RESOURCES AND USED TO CREATE RENEWABLE ENERGY.

A 2013 REPORT BY THE NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY FOUND THAT IOWA LED THE NATION IN THE AMOUNT OF METHANE AVAILABLE FROM ANIMAL MANURE.

IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY TEAMED UP WITH THE DES MOINES-BASED COMPANY –“ECO-ENGINEERINGS” TO CREATE AN INTERACTIVE MAP AND WEBSITE THAT ALLOWS USERS TO VIEW THE AMOUNT OF METHANE-CONTAINING WASTE IN THEIR AREA.

FOR A LINK TO THE MAP OR TO READ MORE ABOUT THIS INITIATIVE, VISIT IOWA.ENVIROINMENTALFOCUS.ORG.

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

https://iowaenvironmentalfocus.org/2015/04/23/animal-manure-could-create-a-new-energy-market-in-iowa/

On the Radio: Power grid braces for climate change


Old power lines being fed by renewable wind turbines in Dexter, Minn. (Elvis Kennedy/Flickr)
Old power lines being fed by renewable wind turbines in Dexter, Minn. (Elvis Kennedy/Flickr)
May 26, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a U.S. Department of Energy effort to overhaul the current power grid in anticipation of future extreme weather events associated with climate change. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

IN APRIL, THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY RELEASED A REPORT CALLING FOR AN OVERHAUL OF THE CURRENT POWER GRID TO BETTER HANDLE EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS ASSOCIATED WITH CLIMATE CHANGE.

THIS IS THE IOWA ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS.

THE REPORT STATED THAT SEVERE WEATHER HAS BEEN THE LEADING CAUSE OF POWER DISRUPTIONS IN THE U.S., CAUSING BETWEEN 18- AND 33-BILLION-DOLLARS IN DAMAGES EACH YEAR. THE REPORT’S AUTHORS EXPECT THAT THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE WILL CAUSE MORE SEVERE WEATHER AND WORSEN THESE DAMAGES. DURING THE UNVEILING OF THE PLAN IN PHILADELPHIA, VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN SAID THAT MORE ENERGY IS BEING PRODUCED FROM WIND AND SOLAR, WHICH PRESENTS PROBLEMS FOR THE GRID IN TIMES OF POWER OUTAGES, PARTICULARLY IN RURAL AREAS WHERE THE INFRASTRUCTURE LAGS BEHIND THE TECHNOLOGY.

THE REPORT RECOMMENDS SPENDING MORE THAN FIFTEEN-BILLION-DOLLARS OVER THE NEXT DECADE TO IMPROVE THE GRID AND MAKE ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE MORE RESILIANT TO EXTREME WEATHER AND OTHER EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE REPORT, VISIT IOWA-ENVIRONMENTAL-FOCUS-DOT-ORG.

FROM THE UI CENTER FOR GLOBAL AND REGIONAL ENVIROINMENTAL RESEARCH, I’M JERRY SCHNOOR.

SOURCE: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-21/white-house-unveils-road-map-for-upgrading-energy-infrastructure

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.

Catching up with former-Hawkeye-turned-solar-advocate Tim Dwight


Tim Dwight (left) with Iowa state Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) during a proposal to install solar panels on Kinnick Stadium in 2012. (Tessa Hursh/The Daily Iowan archives)
Tim Dwight (left) with State Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) during a proposal to install solar panels on Kinnick Stadium in 2012. (Tessa Hursh/The Daily Iowan archives)

Nick Fetty | March 27, 2015

Tim Dwight made a name for himself on the gridiron as a Hawkeye and during his 10-year NFL career but for the last seven years he has been making a name for himself as a solar energy advocate and businessman.

After his football career he spent a year traveling around the world which included two USO tours in Iraq. This opportunity helped him to realize the danger that the country was putting itself and its citizens in because of its dependence on oil.

“That was definitely game-changing for me with what I wanted to do for my career,” Dwight said of his USO tours as well as his travels in Africa. “The world runs on energy everywhere and energy runs everything so I knew that market was not going to go away.”

Upon returning to the United States Dwight first started working in the solar industry with a company in Nevada. Calif.  After learning about the basics of the industry, the Iowa City native decided to return to his home state to educate Iowans about the benefits of solar energy.

“Bringing that knowledge (of design, engineering, and installation of solar panels) to Iowa dawned on me. It was like a light bulb went off and I was like ‘You know what, I need to come back to Iowa and help this industry grow because it’s growing everywhere in the world and it’s going to grow in the United States.’ ”

Much of the learning process for Dwight didn’t involve attending classes or lectures but instead was simply a matter of him searching for and reading material available on the internet. He has spent the last five years trying to build the solar industry in Iowa, which includes the creation of the Iowa Solar Trade Association as well as lobbying on policy issues at the statehouse. As a former athlete, Dwight’s competitive nature sometimes comes into play with his work in solar.

“When I was in high school and junior high I always wanted to be the fastest guy, I wanted to be the best football player, I wanted to win state championships, I wanted to win a national championship,” he said. “But when I got out of football I was like ‘You know what, energy is the biggest game in the world and solar is going to change everything.’ Being a part of something like that is very exciting and very humbling, understanding what it’s going to do for the world and the people.”

Part of Dwight’s goal is to use to solar energy as a way of bringing affordable and efficient electricity to undeveloped parts of the world, where as many as one billion people do not have access to electricity. On the other side of the spectrum, highly industrialized areas are contributing to carbon emissions and other pollution, so Dwight hopes to use solar as a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly energy source.

“To understand that a mile-long coal train will burn a city of 150,000 people for one day is pretty substantial on how much we’re burning,” he said.

Coal is particularly inefficient, he said, because roughly 70 percent of the energy from burning coal is wasted, not to mention the inefficiency of distributing electricity via the current grid system.

“We’re starting to realize that the way that we procure and the way we burn and the way we power our lives is not the correct way to do it. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to move to another level like we have with communication,” he said.

He compared the evolution of solar energy to that of telecommunications. When cell phones were first released they were inefficient, expensive, and relatively few people owned them. However as the technology evolved, it became cheaper and more accessible to a greater number of people. Solar technology – with the first solar cells developed in the 1830s – has experienced a similar evolution and has become considerably more efficient and affordable in just the last ten years alone.

“You have this technology that’s been laying around for awhile it just hasn’t been put into use because it changes the energy paradigm when you have monopolized markets,” Dwight said.

The current tax incentives are curial for solar to succeed, according to Dwight, and he hopes to see an extension of Solar Investment Tax Credit, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2016.

“We really need to have that extended out for another probably five years,” he said. “I think it’s important that people understand that these policies have been working and are putting people to work.”

While Iowa has been a national leader in wind energy, solar energy has also been catching on particularly in the agricultural industry.

“You look at our solar industry right now, it’s all ag. It’s 90 percent ag. A lot of farmers are putting in a lot of solar,” he said.

While he supports the tax incentive now, his goal is the solar industry will eventually be able to sustain without it.

“We don’t want to be incentivized, we just want a level playing field,” he said. “We’re starting to see that climate change is real and it’s happening and it’s affecting everything across the board and one of the main drivers of that is carbon and technologies we’ve build our world around the last fifty, sixty, one hundred years.”

However, despite the challenges, Dwight is optimistic that solar will continue to grow and will be the energy source of the future.

“There’s just a lot of things that go into energy and it’s been pretty eye opening. Sometimes I’m like ‘Wow. What did I get myself into?” he said. “But seeing where it’s going and seeing how it’s going to change the world for the better is incredible.”

On the Radio: Iowa stays ahead in wind generation


An Iowa wind farm (Brian Hoffman / Flickr)
An Iowa wind farm (Brian Hoffman / Flickr)
March 23, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an assessment of Iowa’s wind energy industry that shows the state still leads the nation in percentage of wind energy production. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa Wind

With over 3,400 turbines, Iowa maintained its third-place ranking in wind energy generation last year.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The American Wind Energy Association recently released fact sheets for each state,
showing that Iowa sits behind only Texas and California in wind projects added as of last year. Iowa still leads the nation in energy percentage from wind, with 27 percent,
resulting in a wind capacity of over 5,000 megawatts. Thatʼs enough to power nearly 1.5
million homes.

Even with those gains, the Association estimates wind power could meet
the stateʼs electricity needs forty times over. Iowa has one of the largest turbine
manufacturers in the country and two of the largest blade manufacturers.

The report shows that thanks to wind, Iowa avoided over 9 million metric tons of CO2
emissions and saved over 3 billion gallons in water usage.

For more information about wind energy, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, Iʼm Jerry
Schnoor.

http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/FileDownloads/pdfs/Iowa.pdf

Iowa regents approve new power plant for UI campus


The current main power plant for the University of Iowa sits along the Iowa City on Burlington Street. (Facilities Management/University of Iowa)
The current main power plant for the University of Iowa sits along the Iowa River on Burlington Street. (UI Facilities Management)

Nick Fetty | March 13, 2015

Earlier this week the Iowa Board of Regents approved plans for a $75 million power plant to provide energy for buildings on the west side of the University of Iowa’s campus.

Similar to the current UI Power Plant, the West Campus Energy Plant will create steam to power heating, cooling, and sterilization systems. The new plant is expected to be able to create up to 300,000 pounds of steam per hour, slightly less than the 480,000 pounds of steam per hour the current plant produces.

“The University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, research and residential services require continuous, uninterrupted supplies of steam,” said Glen Mowery, director of Utilities and Energy Management, during in an interview with the UI’s news service Iowa Now. “The new plant will not only ensure continuity of services to our most critical health and research facilities, but also provide back-up service to both sides of campus while providing the most flexibility in fuel sources.”

The new plant will be able to provide power for the entire campus in the event of flood waters inundating the old facility or during potential grid failure. Additionally, the new plant will be able to utilize currently existing rail and truck lines to provide a direct supply of biomass fuel which is part of the UI’s 2020 Vision.

The proposal calls for the plant to be constructed northwest of the Finkbine Commuter Lot between Hawkins Drive and Finkbine Golf Course. Construction is expected to begin in two years and the facility should be operational by 2019.