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.
The Environmental Protection Commission, an agency that oversees the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), voted to change anti-degradation rules this week despite criticism from two Iowa environmental groups. Under previous regulation, construction projects that would pollute Iowa’s waterways were required to perform a three-part analysis of the project, including a cost-benefit analysis that considered pollution-reducing alternatives.
The Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law & Policy Center argue that the regulation change fails to consider the environment, ignoring the value of pollution reduction and economic cost of contaminated water. Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said EPC rushed the decision, “This is the fastest I’ve seen rule-making move.”
The formation of previous water pollution and anti-degradation rules took regulators two years and involved stakeholders from municipalities, industry, and concerned citizens. In contrast, the establishment of new regulations spans a five month period. Mandelbaum added, “DNR has made no effort to bring stakeholders together to address these changes, and as a result, the final rules have significant problems.”