25 beaches in Iowa were under a swim advisory this summer because of elevated toxins or bacteria. According to the Iowa Environmental Council, swimming was not advised for at least a week for the two-thirds of Iowa beaches that had a swim advisory.
This summer, there were 107 advisors for E. coli, which was a 22 percent increase from last year. The concentrations of E. coli at Crandall Beach at Spirit Lake were so high in August that the DNR’s technology could not measure it, which can detect up to 24,000 viable bacteria per 100 milliliters of water.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tests every Iowa beach weekly from May to September, examining levels of E. coli, and toxins. Alicia Vasto, the IEC’s water program director, said that although the IEC has been monitoring this testing for 20 years, it is still unsure of the trend in E. coli or toxin levels.
“It’s really concerning because we have so few public places in our state — we have so few public lands,” Vasto told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “And so the public beaches and parks that we have, we really need to protect them and do more to address this issue.”
The DNR said the main solution to decrease watershed pollution is prevention, which means keeping extra sediment, nutrients, bacteria, and other pollutants. Conserving practices in agricultural areas, including wetlands and buffers, can also decrease pollutants in water.
Iowa’s Big Grove Brewery partnered with Green State Credit Union to create a beer to donate to the Iowa Environmental Council’s initiatives to clean the state’s waterways.
The “Greener State of Mind” beer was developed and put on the shelves of grocery and liquor stores in Iowa City in October. All of the funds raised by sales will go to the Iowa Environmental Council to improve Iowa waterways according to The Daily Iowan. Specifically, the money will go to “advocate for clean water and land stewardship, clean energy, and a healthy climate.”
The citrus pale ale features a graphic of Iowa’s rivers and waterways alongside the credit union’s green tree logo. The beer sold out in less than a month and can no longer be found on shelves. Head of Brand Marketing at Big Grove Brewery Janelle Buxton told the DI she is optimistic about raising more than $25,000 for the Iowa Environmental Council. Cleaning up the state’s waterways is currently one of the council’s main priorities when it comes to environmental advocacy alongside retiring coal plants in Iowa, focusing on energy efficiency, and increasing renewable energy usage.
This is the inaugural partnership between the two companies, but they plan to collaborate in the future and donate funds to other causes.
The current plan to clean Iowa’s polluted waterways would take up to 22,000 years to meet its goals according to the Iowa Environmental Council.
The council issued a new report based on its latest review of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy—which the state originally adopted in 2013. The strategy is based on a science and technology framework that assesses the nutrients in Iowa’s waterways and attempts to reduce them. The report said the program, which has been the backbone of the state’s water quality efforts in recent years, is not working in the council’s view.
The strategy is failing to reduce nutrient pollution in Iowa’s water. The council criticized the state’s solution, calling it an immensely slow response to the serious water quality issues plaguing the state. One of the places the strategy is falling short is in funding, according to the report. Iowa lawmakers increased funding for the program by almost $300 million over the next 12 years, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.
The Iowa Environmental Council also joined a group of 10 riverfront states in calling for a new federal initiative to improve the water quality in the Mississippi River. The group is advocating for a bill that would create a federal Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative that would restore the river that faces runoff, habitat loss, and intense flooding events annually.
Iowa should speed up the disuse of coal plants in the state according to new analysis from the Iowa Environmental Council.
The council said Iowa’s investor-owned utilities do no need coal power to meet the demands of residents. Steve Guyer, the council’s energy and climate policy specialist, said there are options to help Iowa build on its wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources, including power generated with hydrogen and battery storage of electricity. These energy options are enough to meet the needs of Iowans.
The Iowa Environmental Council is also joining forces with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club to appeal a decision by the Iowa Utilities Board that allowed MidAmerican Energy Company’s coal plants to evade reviews this year. The lawsuit is leaning on Iowa’s law that requires biennial review of plants to manage coal emissions, suggesting the MidAmerican company ignored options to retire coal plants and decrease emissions.
MidAmerican is the largest carbon polluter in the state according to the council, due to its owning and operating of five coal plants in Iowa. The company has no plan to retire the use of coal regardless of the council’s new analysis. The lawsuit was filed in a Polk County District Court on June 11.
MidAmerican has invested in the use of wind and solar resources in recent years, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The company has retired four coal plants in the last six years, but Guyer said coal is not needed at all in the state and no longer creates an effective “base load” of electricity.
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.