Iowa lawmakers, advocates reach compromise on controversial solar bill


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The Solar Act would promote the viability of private solar panel ownership in Iowa (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 10, 2020

Iowa legislators have reached a compromise on last year’s controversial “Sunshine Tax” bill. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Friday that both legislative chambers have unanimously approved bill versions of the“Solar Act,” which are awaiting Gov. Reynolds’ approval.

According to the dispatch, the act would allow owners of home, business or farm solar arrays to continue selling excess energy to utility companies at the retail rate. Last spring, a controversial bill proposed an extra $300 annual fee for solar customers who sell excess energy, meant to cover the cost of using the electric grid. Critics said the fee would make it much harder for private owners to pay off their investment into solar, essentially killing the largely private solar industry in Iowa.

The new version also orders an independent cost-benefit analysis of solar power in Iowa, meant to make sure all parties pay their fair share. Following the study, the Iowa Utilities Board would make a recommendation for reasonable billing methods. Existing solar owners would be immune to recomended changes in billing methods.

Iowa legislature considers bill to encourage efficiency in rental units


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Older rental properties are often prone to inefficiencies leading to wasted resources and high utility costs (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | February 25, 2020

A bill proposed this month in the Iowa House of Representatives would increase transparency around energy efficiency and utility costs in rental units.

The bill, HSB 635, states that landlords of properties containing at least 12 units would need to disclose average utility costs in writing to prospective tenants, prior to issuing a lease.

Properties with low rent are often older and may have structural issues–like leaky windows or dripping pipes— which can lead to wasted resources and higher utility bills for tenants.  The Iowa Environmental Council is encouraging support of the bill, saying it would create incentives for more efficient rental properties.

 

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.

Proposed bill would tighten Iowa manure application laws


With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

 

Nick Fetty | March 3, 2015

An Iowa Senate subcommittee has approved a bill it hopes will improve water quality by tightening manure application laws.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) from the Natural Resources and Environment Subcommittee introduced the bill last month. If passed, the bill would bar farmers from applying fertilizer when (1) the ground is frozen or snow-covered; (2) the ground is water-saturated; (3) the 24-hour weather forecast calls for a half-inch of rain or more; or (4) the ground is sloped at 20 percent or greater. The currently law – which was added to the Iowa Code in 2010 – states that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1.

The proposed bill is also supported by the non-profit Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. ICCI organizer Jess Mazour believes the proposed bill will be more effective at cleaning up Iowa’s waterways compared to the current voluntary system.

“It is very much needed because voluntary compliance is not working,” Mazour said in an interview with WNAX. “And if we just leave it up to farmers to pick and choose what they think is safe it’s showing us that our water is just going to keep getting dirtier. We have to be very specific about what we want.”

An identical bill was also introduced to the Iowa House by Rep. Dan Kelly (D-Newton). These proposals come on the heels of a recent measure drafted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which allows the DNR to inspect manure-handling practices by farmers and to issue fines for those not in compliance with current codes.

Approximately 76 manure spills were reported in 2013. In 2014, a dairy farm was fined $160,000 after improper manure disposal killed hundreds of thousands of fish.

Bill aims to give excess solar energy to low income families


Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) is serving her 11th term in the Iowa House of Representatives. (Iowa House Democrats)
Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) is serving her 11th term in the Iowa House of Representatives. (Iowa House Democrats)

Nick Fetty | February 24, 2015

A bill introduced by Iowa State Representative Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) aims to give excess power generated by solar panels to those struggling to afford electricity.

House File 149 – which was introduced earlier this month – would require utility companies that regularly submit efficiency plans to add to their plans a “solar energy bank program” which would assist low-income families and individuals who fall behind on energy payments. This “solar energy bank” would be the excess energy generated by solar panels. Typically excess energy produced is sold back to the utility company. The bill would serve as an extension of the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

“Our LIHEAP monies run out every year before the end of the winter season,” Mascher said in an interview with Midwest Energy News. “We have more need than money to go around. This is another way to generate more energy money – in terms of providing a safety net for those folks. For me, it’s a win-win because the energy company doesn’t have to turn off someone’s power. And the people who need it the most are able to continue to get the power they need.”

Mascher is currently serving her 11th term in the Iowa House of Representatives. The Iowa City native also serves on the Education, Local Government, State Government and Appropriations committees.

New UI course combines environment and politics


Nick Fetty | May 22, 2014
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Photo via UI Office of Sustainability

A recently introduced course at the University of Iowa teaches students about the interactions between environmental issues and politics.

The course – Iowa Environmental Policy in Practice – was offered last spring through the Department of Geological and Sustainability Sciences which is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Students in the course spent their spring breaks in Des Moines “meeting with legislation from both the House and Senate, policy makers, and environmental groups.” Just some of the local environmental issues covered in the class included alternative energy methods, energy conservation and efficiency, water quality, and fracking. 

Read the full story in Iowa Now.