The Iowa Environmental Council has instated Dr. Brian Campbell, the recent Director of Sustainability – Education and Partnerships at Central College in Pella, as the new Executive Director of the council, according to the Iowa Environmental Council.
The Iowa Environmental Council is a non-profit organization that advocates for clean water and land stewardship, clean energy, and a healthy climate through education, advocacy, and coalition building in Iowa, according to the council’s, “Who We Are” page.
According to the council, Dr, Brian Campbell, “…worked for more than six years to integrate sustainability throughout the institution, including courses across all departments; student research and internships; the college’s energy and waste management; local food partnerships with area farmers; community environmental education programs; and public advocacy for environmental and climate justice.”
Iowa environmental advocates are celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s win and say that his presidency could boost Iowa’s renewable energy industry and environmental protection efforts.
The Iowa Environmental Council is interested in seeing the Biden administration increase federal opportunities that expand solar and wind development, promote the construction of transmission lines to deliver clean energy from Iowa to the rest of the U.S., and push policies that promote sustainable farming practices. Iowa has been heavily impacted by storms and flooding events in recent years, so the council also hopes to see policies that will encourage the adoption of a more resilient infrastructure, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.
Angelisa Belden, a council spokesperson, says that she expects the Biden administration to reverse the Donald Trump’s environmental deregulation efforts from the last four years. The council is also focussing closely on who Biden will appoint as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They disapprove of Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the EPA, because of his close ties to the coal and oil industries.
The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club also endorsed Biden during the presidential race. They, along with other environmentalists across the state, believe Biden’s bold plans to address climate change will aid them in their own efforts to transition the state to clean energy and protect natural resources, and they look forward to his first days in office.
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.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an order on March 26 announcing the suspension of the enforcement of environmental compliance reporting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before this change, businesses were required to report and limit all air emissions and water discharges, meet requirement for hazardous waste management and maintain standards for safe drinking water. Businesses that failed to meet these EPA-issued standards could face fines.
The recent order states that factories, power plants, and other facilities are encouraged to keep records of any instances of non-compliance with EPA instituted regulations. However, they will not face any fines for violations as long as the EPA agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than intentional disregard for the law, is the cause.
In its order, the EPA did not designate an end date for the suspension or address the potential ramifications this decision could have for public health and safety. Allowing industry to police itself could cause air and water pollution to go unchecked and put the safety of drinking water at risk, according to the Iowa Environmental Council.
Compromising access to clean water could make it more difficult for the U.S. healthcare system to provide the sanitary conditions necessary for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic according to the IEC. The Washington Post also reported that the wording of the EPA’s order is broad enough that companies could get away with practices that put public health at risk well into the future.
The Iowa Farm Bureau is urging state legislators to regulate siting of wind and solar operations this session, citing concerns about conflicting land use.
The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that Farm Bureau legislative preview videos said generating 3,000 megawatts of solar power through 20 proposed projects in Iowa “could potentially take thousands of acres out of production.”
Kerri Johannsen, the Iowa Environmental Council’s energy director, told the Register that generating 10% of Iowa’s power through solar panels would require 13,000 acres, or 0.4% of Iowa’s farmland.
Bill Cherrier, CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative (which has a few solar projects in the works) said solar projects are usually cited on “subprime” land for farming. Environmental groups said they would be open to regulation, as long as they did not restrict the state’s transition to renewable energy in the future.
An article this week from clean energy website Clean Technica suggested Iowa farmers consider “agrovolatics,” or integration of renewable energy and crops. The author cited European studies and projects that demonstrated increased productivity of land through the practice.
The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center last month submitted testimony from five “expert witnesses” to the Iowa Utilities Board regarding Alliant Energy’s proposed base rate increases, currently under review.
The environmental groups disapprove of the proposal overall and said they believe they have identified alternative “solutions that will save customers money while cleaning up Alliant’s generation mix.”
Below are summaries of Alliant’s proposal and the environmental groups’ critique.
About Alliant’s proposal
On April 1, 2019, Alliant customers began seeing an interim base rate increase (about $8 for the typical residential customer) on their energy bills.
The company plans to further raise the rate beginning January 1, 2020. The total increase of $20 (24.45%) for typical residential customers would bring about $203.6 million in revenue into the company annually.
In a proposal to customers, Alliant said the company is “investing in new wind farms, energy grid technologies including advanced metering infrastructure, and environmental controls that reduce emissions.”
The company has also said that the additional cost to customers would be offset over time by reductions in other costs like energy efficiency.
The proposed increases are awaiting a hearing in November from the Iowa Utility Board. If the increases are not approved, Alliant would have to refund customers for excess paid during the interim increase.
The IEC/ELPC perspective
The IEC and ELPC have both economic and socioeconomic concerns about the proposal, as outlined in their testimony to the IUB. The testimony also providedeconomic analysis of the utility’s current coal power generation.
A few highlights from the testimony include:
Coal generation costs more than renewables. An analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute Principal Uday Varadarajan on behalf of the two organizations found that the cost of Alliant’s coal generation exceeds that of projected renewable energy costs. Retiring three Alliant coal plants and purchasing market energy or purchasing or generating wind energy could save customers $16 million in 2020, he found. This was proposed as an alternative move for Alliant to make, increasing renewables while reducing rather than increasing cost to consumers. (Read more from U.S. Energy News).
Revenue would be spent on wasteful initiatives. The groups call out one initiative Alliant has proposed — putting power lines underground — as a poor use of consumer funds.
Proposed solar programs could undermine the industry. The groups believe Alliant’s new community solar program (implied to be funded in part by the rate increase) would compete with solar businesses and potentially create a monopoly. They said the proposal also includes measures similar to those proposed in the “Sunshine Tax” legislation earlier this year to increase cost for solar customers.
If you own a private well in Iowa, it’s likely contaminated with dangerous bacteria, nitrates or both, according to a new report from the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Working Group.
“Wherever Iowans test for these contaminants, they have a pretty good chance of finding them,” the report’s primary author, economic analyst Anne Schechinger said in a press release.
The report was released yesterday as an interactive map, using dots in three colors to indicate the relative levels of contamination between counties based on state testing from 2002 to 2017. Because the EPA does not require testing for private wells, the vast majority of Iowa’s private wells are never tested. Only 55,000 of Iowa’s estimated 290,000 wells were tested during the study period.
Over 40 percent of those wells contained fecal coliform bacteria, considered unsafe in any amount. Twelve percent had nitrate levels above the EPA’s 10 parts per million safety standard. Twenty-two percent had nitrate levels above 5 ppm, which recent studies have linked to increased risk of numerous health problems, according to the report. The average nitrate level rose to 5.7 ppm over the years of study.
Over that entire period, eight counties tested fewer than 10 wells, meaning this report tells an incomplete story. Findings indicate that those counties, which appear the cleanest on the map, may actually be among the most at risk. Only one-third of wells were tested more than once. Those that were tested repeatedly often showed continued contamination, indicating lack of action.
Though many neighbors of wind farms complain that the turbines are an eyesore and that their whirring causes headaches or disturbs sleep, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that the noise from wind farms causes any harm to humans beyond annoyance.
Those reviews, conducted a few years ago, found no link between health outcomes and wind turbines, though they did find evidence of annoyance. The authors of the new report believe that risk perception plays a major role in perceived “annoyance” for neighbors of wind farms. Those that have a negative view of the turbines will be more likely to report negative health outcomes, whether or not they are actually exposed to harmful noises. Those that receive monetary compensation for the potential nearby nuisance will be less likely to report annoyance or health problems.
Nearly 37 percent of energy produced in energy is generated by wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. At over 8,400 megawatts, Iowa has the second highest wind power capacity in the nation. Ten wind power facilities have saved over 8.8 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon and provided over 7,000 jobs since the state started developing wind power infrastructure almost 20 years ago.
The authors of the report believe the benefits of the industry outweigh potential annoyances to neighbors.
“Given the evidence and confounding factors, and the well-documented negative health and environmental impacts of power produced with fossil fuels, we conclude that development of electricity fromwind is a benefit to the environment,” they wrote. “We conclude that wind energy should result in a net positive benefit to human health.”
The Iowa Environmental Council will hold its annual conference this Thursday, October 5th at a Des Moines Area Community College facility in Ankeny. Titled “ACT Iowa: Local Solutions for a Healthier Environment,” the conference will discuss solutions to pressing environmental problems.
The all-day event will include several break-out sessions with topics ranging from watershed management and sustainable housing to local food systems and environmental advocacy. The conference will welcome Nicolette Hahn Niman, livestock rancher, attorney and author, as its keynote speaker. Hahn Niman has published two books related to sustainable meat production and written several pieces for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the LA Times.
The Iowa Environmental Council is the largest environmental coalition in the state, serving as a nonpartisan group working to promote clean water and land stewardship, clean energy, and a healthy climate.
Individuals interested in registering for the event can do so here.
What: ACT Iowa: Local Solutions for a Healthier Environment, hosted by the Iowa Environmental Council
The keynote address, “We the Planet: Building an Ecological Economy in the Age of Humans,” will be given by Jon D. Erikson. Erikson is a Fellow of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a Professor at the Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. The daylong event will also feature Speaker of Honor Rob Bilott. Bilott will discuss the regulatory, legal and scientific challenges of ‘unregulated’ drinking water contaminants during his address. The conference also features a panel of business owners that practice environmental stewardship.
ECOnomics: Dollars, Sense & Sustainability will take place at the DMACC Ankeny Campus on October 6th, 2016. The event has been approved for 3.25 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit, and discounted rates are available for students. For more details or to register, visit the event website.
Keynote speaker Jon D. Erikson offers a crash course in ecological economics during his work with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics in 2011.