Editorial calls for more emphasis on land management to reduce carbon emissions


Corn and hay grow on these rolling hills in Clayton County, Iowa (Todd Ehlers/Flickr)
Corn and hay grow on these rolling hills in Clayton County, Iowa (Todd Ehlers/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2015

An Iowa City writer recently published an editorial in The New York Times outlining ways that Iowa is reducing and will continue to reduce carbon emissions.

Jeff Biggers – a writer-in-residence for the UI’s Office of Sustainability and founder of the Climate Narrative Project – points out efforts Iowa is currently taking to reduce its carbon footprint such as using wind power to generate roughly 30 percent of the state’s electricity needs as well as the WACO school district which soon hopes to generate 90 percent of its electricity from solar.

Biggers also discussed specific ways that an agriculturally-focused state such as Iowa can keep its carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere. He points out that land misuse accounts for 30 percent of carbon emissions, a potential talking point for world leaders attending the COP 21 conference which begins later this month.

“Far too few climate change negotiators took notice of an important proposal called the Four Per Thousand Initiative, which France’s Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry introduced earlier this year. This proposal simply calls for a voluntary action plan to improve organic matter content and promote soil carbon sequestration in soil though a transition to agro-ecology, agro-forestry, conservation agriculture, and landscape management. According to France’s estimates, a “.4 percent annual growth rate for the soil carbon stock would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2.”

Earlier this week, Biggers appeared on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River to discuss soil carbon sequestration and other environmental issues with fellow author Courtney White who recently published Two Percent Solutions for the Planet.

“We’re looking at soil carbon sequestration efforts through regenerative agriculture, through organic farming, through a whole host of activities that are happening now in the rural areas that really give me a lot of hope in terms of the climate change issue.”

Ecopolis Iowa City event focuses on solar energy


Warren McKenna - general manager for Farmers Electric Cooperative - presented during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Warren McKenna – general manager for Farmers Electric Cooperative – presented during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Nick Fetty | January 22, 2015

Nearly 100 local politicians, students, and area residents attended Wednesday night’s Ecolopis Iowa City forum which focused on solar energy.

Iowa City attorney Rockne Cole was the first to speak at event explaining that the group formed about 60 days ago in a coffee shop and has gained quite a following in that time. He described Ecopolis Iowa City as a group of “doers” dedicated to renewable energy and sustainable development in Iowa City.

Warren McKenna – general manager of the Kalona-based Farmers Electric Cooperative – was the first of four presenters to take the podium Wednesday night. McKenna – who was named CEO of Year by the Solar Electric Power Association last year – said that his company has installed $3.6 million in solar systems since 2008, which includes solar arrays at Iowa Mennonite School and Washington Township Elementary. He has traveled from New York to Las Vegas and even as far as Germany to promote solar energy.

Troy Miller –  Director of Power Purchase Agreements for North Liberty-based Moxie Solar – was the next to present.

“Your local government is doing a great job of stepping up and taking the bull by the horns with solar,” he said.

Miller was referring to the Johnson County government which has partnered with Moxie to install solar panels on the roof of the county’s new secondary roads building project. This project makes Johnson County the first county in the state to utilize a Power Purchase Agreement for a solar project. For this project, the county put zero dollars down and agreed to pay a higher rate for electricity over the next ten years. After the first ten years the county will own the system outright and is expected to save $255,000 over a 25 year period.

“This is just one building,” Miller said. “The county has more than one building. That’s the good news.”

Troy Miller - Director of Power Purchase Agreements for Moxie Solar - discussed a recent collaboration between Moxie and the Iowa City Community School District during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Troy Miller – Director of Power Purchase Agreements for Moxie Solar – discussed a recent collaboration between Moxie and the Iowa City Community School District during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Miller also discussed a recent partnership between Moxie Solar and the Iowa City Community School District. He analyzed more than 700 electricity bills at more than 26 school locations to help the district determine its options for installing solar panels at the schools. In addition to helping the schools, Miller said he plans to launch a six-part “Common Cents Solar” webinar series which will individually focus on schools, cities, counties, churches, agriculture, and commercial entities. Miller also encouraged local non-profits to contact him (troy@moxiesolar.com) and send 12 months worth of electricity bills which he will use to conduct a free solar analysis.

Iowa City realtor and developer Kevin Hanick was the last one to present on Wednesday night. Hanick has been practicing real estate in Iowa City for over 30 years but admitted that he knew very little about solar energy until recently.

“I’m a mutt in this whole game but I’m learning,” he said.

Iowa City developer  (Photo by Jeff Biggers)
Iowa City developer Kevin Hanick discussed plans for installing rooftop solar panels for an upcoming project during the Ecopolis Iowa City forum on January 21. (Photo by Jeff Biggers)

Hanick discussed a project he is currently working on which will be constructed near the intersection of South Riverside Drive and West Benton Street in Iowa City. The project will recieve tax incriment financing (TIF) which requires that it is constructed with photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftop. The 28,000 square-foot rooftop on the building is expected to fit approximately 700 solar panels.

“It struck me early on we should be constructing an energy efficient project,” he said, adding that he supports the idea of requiring developers to install solar panels on all future TIF-funded projects.

At the end of the event, Hanick was awarded the Tesla Award for Renewable Energy Innovation by the Ecopolis Forum to recognize his efforts.

On Saturday January 24 at noon, Ecopolis Iowa City will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ecopolis Center at 1000 South Dubuque Street. The group will host its next monthly forum at the Iowa City Public Library on Saturday February 21 at 10 a.m. where they will focus specifically on Iowa City’s proposed Riverfront Crossings District.

For more information about Wednesday night’s event, check out this piece by Jeff Biggers for the Huffington Post Green blog.

Community group aims to turn Iowa City into an “ecopolis”


Turning Iowa City into an "ecopolis" includes utilizing local renewable energy sources and constructing environmentally-friendly building (Tom Jacobs/Flickr)
Turning Iowa City into an “ecopolis” includes installing and utilizing local renewable energy sources as well as focusing on locally-grown agriculture (Tom Jacobs/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 20, 2014

A group of community members gathered in downtown Iowa City Tuesday to discuss ways in which Iowa City can become “the first regenerative city of the arts, food, renewable energy, and commerce in the heartland.”

The group aims to turn Iowa City into an “ecopolis” through increased renewable energy usage, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and local agriculture initiatives. These efforts would reduce fossil fuel usage between both local commuters and food being transported.

Jeff Biggers – writer in residence for the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability – is a major proponent of the Iowa City ecopolis project. Earlier this month he presented “An Evening at the Ecopolis: Rethinking Iowa City, Regenerating Food, Energy, Trees and the Way We Get Around,” a fictional narrative which “envisions Iowa City full of walkable and vibrant neighborhoods, milkweed to bring back the butterflies, high-tech architecture, easy public transportation, solar power, personal connections to nature and organic urban agriculture.” Biggers also points out that over a century ago, foreign visitors compared Iowa City to St. Omer in France, which has since embraced renewable energy methods and has developed pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

Grant Schultz – owner of Versaland farm just outside of Iowa City – was the event’s keynote speaker and said that by May 2016 he hopes 90 percent of Iowa City residents live within 16 block (or one mile) of a community garden plot. On his own farm Schultz practices and teaches sustainable techniques such agroforestry and silvopasture.

Biggers and Schultz both helped to organize Tuesday’s event along with Miriam Alarcón Avila, Rockne Cole, Erica Damman, Mara Kardas-Nelson, and Carla Paciotto.

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(Grant Schultz/Facebook)