Mysterious group behind pro-‘Sunshine Tax’ ads


5320535709_a4dcf58d06_z.jpg
A home solar generation unit (flickr).

Julia Poska| March 29, 2019

A group called the REAL Coalition has been targeting Iowans with ads in support of the SOLAR Act or ‘Sunshine Tax.’ The act would impose an over $300 annual fee on private solar power generators to cover their use of the electric grid, which many believe would kill solar power in Iowa.

Others, like MidAmerican Energy and the REAL Coalition, say the cost of maintaining the grid is unfairly shifted onto non-solar customers.

Josh Scheinblum from KCRG fact checked the coalition’s TV ad. The coalition claimed most energy in Iowa comes from “clean, renewables” while coal and other fossil fuels actually generate the majority. The ad also said solar panel owners use the grid more than others, who end up paying their share. Scheinblum spoke with a solar owner and consultant, who called that claim ridiculous.

“The whole point for solar is either to slow down or to stop the flow of energy flowing into the meter,” he said.

Little is known about the REAL Coalition. It formed as a non-profit in January and is not a registered as lobbying group or Political Action Committee. Their site says they “give voice to Iowa consumers, farmers and businesses on the energy issues affecting our state,” and gives no information about their leadership or funding sources.

A Little Village article describes them as a dark money group (“a nonprofit that engages in political activity but does not disclose its funders”) and details a vague encounter with a REAL Coalition telemarketer. Some suspect MidAmerican Energy is behind the group.

 

The Iowa ‘sunshine tax’: What you need to know


Solar_panels_in_Češnjevek.jpg
The “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” may not be so sunny (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 28, 2019

The so-called “sunshine tax” might have a bright and cheery name, but the proposed fee could put a real damper on private solar power in Iowa.

Described in House Study Bill 185 and Senate Study Bill 1201, the “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” would impose an over $300 annual fee on solar customers — property owners with small-scale solar panel setups who sell excess power back to the grid. The fee would cover the cost of using the electric grid and support Iowa’s energy infrastructure.

Currently, such customers can expect to pay off the high initial cost of solar panel installation in less than 10 years through savings on energy bills and sales of excess power. Cedar Rapids City Councilman Tyler Olson told the designated House subcommittee the fee would extend that period to as much as 20 years, as reported in the Gazette. This would greatly discourage private individuals from investing in home setups, which typically last about 25 years.

Supporters of the fee, including major Iowa utilities like MidAmerican and Alliant Energy, say it is unfair that customers who do not generate their own power absorb the cost of maintaining power infrastructure that is used by solar generators.

“Growth is possible when policies allow all customers to benefit from renewable energy,”  MidAmerican Energy’s president and CEO said in a press release. “Common sense legislation focused on keeping costs low and affordable for everyone provides the best opportunity to grow solar in Iowa.”

Opponents say the fee would only allow solar to grow for large corporations, however, and that it would kill the future of Iowa’s growing solar industry, which largely develops and installs systems for private homes, businesses and farms.

On Tuesday, the Gazette reported that the the bill would soon move forward in the Iowa House, to the full House Commerce Committee. Yesterday, the Iowa Senate held a hearing on their version of the bill, and did the same. There is a push among some legislators to delay the conversation until the Iowa Utilities Board finishes an assessment of compensation for solar energy producers next year.

 

MidAmerican wind expansion approved by IUB, scorned by green energy groups


3821454158_5fc9bb060a_z
Wind power, generated by turbines like those pictured above, is on the rise in Iowa, but not everyone is happy with the circumstances under which it is growing (flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 21, 2018

MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII project will bring the utility company’s “100 percent clean energy vision” to reality so why are groups like the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law & Policy center unhappy with it?

These groups and others opposed the project throughout court proceedings, which concluded with the Iowa Utilities Board granting approval for the projection Dec. 4. While expanding wind energy is certainly a positive in itself, environmentalists hoped the board would require MidAmerican to shut down coal plants and evaluate the cost effectiveness of coal power as a condition to the project’s approval.

“It is time for MidAmerican to make a transparent and long-term commitment to 100% clean energy that includes phasing out one of the 20 largest coal fleets in the country,” explained Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Josh Mandelbaum in a press release.

Though MidAmerican has committed to providing “100 percent renewable” energy, in reality they have only promised to “generate renewable energy equal to 100 percent of its customers’ usage on an annual basis,” in their own words.  The Wind XII project would be the final step to completing that vision. The company is one of the nation’s top coal-burning utilities, however, and has no plans to phase out its coal production in Iowa, even as it expands wind power.

MidAmerican told the Des Moines Register in August that coal was necessary for “low wind” times, but Mandelbaum in the same article called the whole renewable energy declaration “a gimmick.” The company still derives about 30 percent of energy from coal.

More recently, the Register published an opinion piece by Elizabeth Katt Reinders, a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Reinders shamed MidAmerican for its continued reliance on coal, and urged it towards a truer clean energy vision for the sake of our air, energy bills and climate.

State approval of new wind farm echos rising support for wind energy nationwide


13566984135_74db4d2a24_o
Evening skies over the Century Windfarm in Blairsburg, Iowa. (Brain.Abeling/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 1, 2016

A $3.6 billion dollar wind energy project was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board late last week.

The initiative is a part of MidAmerican Energy’s goal to eventually provide 100% renewable energy for its customers in Iowa. Expected to be completed by late 2019, the Wind XI project will add 1,000 wind turbines to Iowa’s grid. Ashton Hockman, a spokesperson for MidAmerican, said in an email earlier this week that while the exact locations are still being finalized, the farm will be located on multiple sites around the state. She added, “Wind XI will add up to 2,000 megawatts of wind generation in Iowa and is the largest wind project MidAmerican Energy has ever undertaken.”

MidAmerican Energy plans to earn back all $3.6 billion dollars through federal production tax credits over the course of ten years. As such, the company did not seek financial support from the state and will not need to raise rates for customers, according the MidAmerican representatives.

Iowa has long been a top producer of wind energy nationwide. It became the first state in the country to produce more than 30% of its total energy using wind earlier this year, and is second only to Texas in total megawatts produced, a state nearly five times its size.The project, first announced by MidAmerican CEO Bill Fehrman last April, will be the largest wind operation in the country according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

New findings from AWEA show that support for wind energy production is on the rise, even across party lines. Polling results show that public support for wind energy seems to rise as the industry grows. In Texas, the top wind producing state in the country, over 85% of voters support wind energy. Nationwide 70% of registered voters have a favorable impression of wind energy, including 60% of Republicans and Independent voters. As the election draws nearer, AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said,

“Candidates running for office on both sides of the aisle in this important election year should take note: The more wind farms we build, the stronger support from U.S. voters grows. As wind power has more than tripled over the last eight years, so have its economic and environmental benefits. Wind technician is the fastest growing job in the U.S., and the billions of dollars of investment in local economies have revitalized many rural communities.”

AMA: Proper LED steet light technology leads to environmental benefits


A LED street light in Tuscon, Arizona. (Bill Morrow/Flickr)
An LED street light in Tuscon, Arizona. (Bill Morrow/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | June 28, 2016

Proper LED – or light emitting diode – technology for street lights could benefit both human health and the environment, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

During its annual meeting earlier this month, the AMA “adopted guidance for communities on selecting among LED lighting options to minimize potential harmful human and environmental effects.” About 10 percent of existing U.S. street lighting has been converted to LED which often have economic and environmental benefits compared to conventional lighting. However, despite these benefits, officials with the AMA feel that certain forms of LED technology in street lighting may actually cause more harm than good.

“Despite the energy efficiency benefits, some LED lights are harmful when used as street lighting,” said AMA Board Member Maya A. Babu. “The new AMA guidance encourages proper attention to optimal design and engineering features when converting to LED lighting that minimize detrimental health and environmental effects.”

The lighting from high-intensity LED designs can harm some bird, insect, turtle, and fish species that are naturally accustomed to a darker environment. To avoid these potential ecological threats, national parks in the U.S. have utilized optimal lighting designs in an effort to minimize the effects of light pollution on the environment. In addition to harming the environment, high-intensity LED lighting can cause distractions for drivers and also disrupt circadian sleep rhythms in humans.

Specifically, the AMA recommends that communities use LED technology with the lowest emission of blue light possible. AMA also recommends that LED lighting be properly shielded to reduce glare and that LED lighting be dimmed during non-peak time periods

In 2015, MidAmerican Energy announced plans to convert more than 100,000 Iowa streetlights to LED over a 10-year period.

Video shows construction of U.S.’s tallest land-based wind turbine in Southwest Iowa


A screenshot from the "Reaching New Heights" video released by MidAmerican Energy Monday. (MidAmerican Energy/YouTube)
A screenshot from the “Reaching New Heights” video released by MidAmerican Energy on Monday May 23, 2016. (MidAmerican Energy/YouTube)
Nick Fetty | May 24, 2016

video released Monday by MidAmerican Energy shows the time-lapse construction of the country’s largest land-based wind turbine which took place in Southwest Iowa.

The 379-foot turbine is constructed mostly of concrete and towers more than 100 feet above its steel counterparts on the 65 turbine, 154-megawatt wind farm in Adams County, the Hawkeye State’s least populated county with 3,796 residents according to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. The Des Moines-based power utility contracted with Siemens Americas Onshore Wind for the supply and construction of the concrete tower which began in August 2015 and took place over a 31-week span. Blades for the turbine were constructed at the Siemens facility in Fort Madison while the concrete for the project was sourced from EFCO Corp. in Des Moines.

MidAmerican Energy officials said the 2.415-megawatt concrete turbine will serve as a prototype to allow the power utility to evaluate the effectiveness of harnessing wind energy at higher altitudes.

“We want to continue to be a leader in bringing innovative energy solutions to our customers and the state of Iowa,” said Mike Gehringer, Vice President Renewable Energy. “Through investment in new methods and new technologies, we’ll move closer to our vision of supplying customers with 100 percent renewable energy.”

The video also points outs that the turbine consists of 90 tons of rebar in the foundation, 554 cubic yards of concrete, and over 80 miles of reinforcing steel. From its base to the top of its tallest blade, the turbine measures 557 feet which is just taller than the Washington Monument.

MidAmerican Energy to convert +100,000 Iowa streetlights to LED


(MidAmerican Energy)

hps_streetlight

Nick Fetty | August 20, 2015

MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to convert more than 100,000 Iowa streetlights to Light Emitting Diode (LED) units over the next 10 years.

The project will  encompass all Iowa cities within MidAmerican’s service territory. Major cities within this territory include: Des Moines, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Council Bluffs, Waterloo, Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Smaller communities also expected to participate in the project include Carroll and Storm Lake, among others.

“This is a true partnership between MidAmerican Energy and our communities as we work together to show our commitment to energy efficiency and cost savings as well as contribute to a greener environment,” said Kathryn Kunert, vice president, business and community development for MidAmerican Energy.

As existing high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs burn out they will be replaced by LED fixtures and bulbs. LEDs have several advantages over HPSs including: lower energy consumption, less frequent maintenance, longer life span, instant-on performance, improved night visibility due to improved color index, reduced spill light, and no mercury, lead or other known disposable hazards. LED units, however, have an initial cost that is about four times that of their HPS counterparts.

Cities and other municipalities eligible for this project must complete MidAmerican Energy’s LED streetlighting agreement. Streetlights owned by municipalities and other utility companies will not be part of the project. The conversion will come at no cost unless municipalities opt for an accelerated installation plan.