What Climate Change Means for Iowa


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Josie Taylor | August 16, 2021

The UN climate report, previously posted on this blog, addresses the risk climate change poses on the world. Moving forward, what does this mean for Iowa? The climate crisis puts Iowa at a higher risk for intense rainfall and flooding. The warmer air will also result in occasional severe droughts, like Iowa has seen this summer. 

Jerry Schnoor, professor at the University of Iowa, said in an op ed with the Des Moines Register that Iowa has decreased greenhouse gas emissions by five percent in the last 10 years. In order to reach climate stability in the future, Iowa needs to decrease emissions by 50 percent in the following 10 years, and down to net zero in 30 years.

Jerry also says the climate disasters happening around the world can no longer be called “natural disasters” because “the human element is so strong.”

Decreasing use of coal, like Iowa is currently doing is a helpful tactic for reducing emissions. Right now, the majority of Iowa energy comes from wind, but in order to continue the decrease of emissions, solar energy needs to implemented at a much higher rate.

Taking action against climate change may seem difficult or expensive, but in the long run it will create jobs, stability and will create better health for everyone. The money and resources needed for Iowa to lower greenhouse gas emissions are worth it.

Environmental council suggests Iowa’s utilities should speed up retirement of coal usage


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 17, 2021

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.

Residents of Palo are Concerned about Possible Solar Project


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Josie Taylor | May 31, 2021

On Tuesday night in Palo, IA, over 100 residents attended a meeting with Linn County officials to ask questions and voice concerns about a possible new solar project. 

NextEra Energy has the goal of transforming the Duane Arnold Energy Center into a solar farm. 

The Palo Community Center was filled with both residents of Palo and nearby areas as Linn County officials presented the solar farm permitting process to the community. The meeting’s purpose was to explain the process because the county has not received any project applications. The solar project would be across 3,500 acres at and near the decommissioned nuclear plant in Palo, according to project manager Kimberly Dickey.

Charlie Nichols told The Gazette that once an application from a developer is received, a review committee would be held the first Thursday of the month following the application. After that, it goes through planning and zoning and then to the Board of Supervisors. A large-scale utility like this also would need to be approved by the Iowa Utilities Board.

Nearly all residents at the meeting opposed the project. They also had questions and concerns about things like the environment, agriculture, and more. 

Among the people who were open about concerns to the county officials was Palo Mayor Eric Van Kerckhove. “My concern is the future of growth,” he said. “I feel this could limit our ability to grow, which grows our tax base.”

Des Moines City Council Approves Transition to 100% Renewable Energy


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Nicole Welle | January 14, 2021

The Des Moines City Council unanimously approved a resolution this week that aims to transition all Des Moines homes and businesses to renewable energy by 2035.

Environmental activists celebrated the resolution, and more than 40 businesses in Des Moines endorsed it. Councilman Josh Mandelbaum, who introduced the resolution, said that it was made possible in part by MidAmerican Energy’s investments in renewable energy sources. MidAmerican is working toward the goal of producing all of its power from renewable sources, and it plans to close all of its coal and gas plants once renewable energy transmission and storage technology improves enough to meet demands, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Des Moines has already implemented changes in recent years to become more environmentally friendly, and this resolution will push the city closer to that goal. Frank Cownie has advocated for the city to reduce carbon emissions since becoming Mayor of Des Moines in 2004. He pledged to honor the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement after Donald Trump announced the United States’ departure from the climate pact in 2016, and the city passed an ordinance in 2019 that requires large businesses to inventory and submit their greenhouse gas emissions and water use annually. In a statement to the city council, Cownie said that local governments play an important role in promoting sustainability and climate change mitigation. They are often tasked with addressing the impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate change, so steps like these are becoming increasingly important.

By approving the resolution, Des Moines will join over 170 other cities across the country that have already made 100% clean energy commitments. Some council members had previously expressed concern over the cost associated with the goal and resisted pushing for even faster action by leveraging the city’s partnership with MidAmerican Energy. However, by working with MidAmerican and other parties to meet the 2035 goal, Des Moines will likely save energy users money in the long run. Renewable energy projects are also likely to create jobs and attract businesses and residents to the Des Moines area in the future.

Proposed Climate Resolution Triggers Debate in Des Moines City Council Meeting


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Nicole Welle | December 10, 2020

Des Moines city council members debated a proposed city resolution that would transition the city’s electric users to 100% renewable energy by 2030 earlier this week.

Councilman Josh Mandelbaum, who supports the proposal, debated with Councilman Joe Gatto over a potential conflict of interest. Gatto accused Mandelbaum of the conflict because Mandelbaum is the senior attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Des Moines office, a non-profit organization that supports renewable energy, aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the retirement of coal plants. Gatto said he would not support any resolution Mandelbaum writes because of his ties with the organization, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

After hearing about the proposal, MidAmerican Energy warned that the move could be too bold. The company is a large, investor-owned utility and has a powerful political presence in Iowa, and council members in the meeting expressed the importance of passing a resolution that MidAmerican will agree with in. MidAmerican has retired some of its coal plants across the state and invests heavily in wind energy, but it expressed concern over the cost of Mandelbaum’s proposal, saying that monthly electric bills would more than triple for homeowners under his plan. MidAmerican suggested adding small modular nuclear power stations to help meet the plan’s emissions goals and lower costs, and it said it would continue to shift away from coal power over time rather than rushing it to avoid blackouts.

Councilwoman Linda Westergaard sided with Gatto in opposing the resolution, and she called for a more cost-effective proposal that aligns with MidAmerican’s goals. Other officials in the meeting echoed her desire for a more conservative approach while some, like Jeremy Caron, Des Moines’ sustainability program manager, expressed the need for “bold but achievable goals.” Caron said that a bold plan like Mandelbaum’s could attract workers to the city and give it a reputation as sustainable.

Mandelbaum added that his proposal would increase jobs in renewable energy and bring in federal aid since it aligns with the Biden administration’s commitment to reducing emissions. However, it is unlikely that the council will have a final proposal ready by the end of the year as planned, and discussion will likely continue into 2021.

Wind Energy Outpaces Coal in Iowa’s Energy Usage


(Image via Flickr)

Maxwell Bernstein | April 24, 2020

Wind energy is now the largest single source of electricity in Iowa, according to a press release from the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa generated at least 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, which accounted for at least 40% of Iowa’s total electricity in 2019. 

In 2018, coal was the primary fuel for Iowa’s electric grid and accounted for 45% of energy production in the state but was declining according to The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The 2018 report showed that Iowa had the second highest share of wind turbines for any state, where 4,700 wind turbines produced 34% of the state’s total electricity.

Coal produced 33% of total U.S energy related CO2 emissions in 2018 according to an EIA report. Wind energy does not produce emissions but does have issues related to noise production according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. These noise issues do not affect health and can be mitigated by technological advances and community planning. 

The rising use of wind and solar energy in our power grid reduces cost, reduces heat trapping emissions that contribute to Earth’s warming climate and improves public health, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists

Iowa solar employment is on the rise


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Most solar jobs are in installation and project development (flickr).

Julia Poska | February 14, 2019

Despite a 3.2 percent drop in solar energy jobs nationwide, solar jobs in Iowa grew 4 percent in 2018, according to the recently released National Solar Jobs Census.

Various solar projects recent years likely contributed to job growth in Iowa. In 2017, Alliant Energy built Iowa’s biggest solar farm on 21 acres near Dubuque, but the Central Iowa Power Cooperative recently announced plans to surpass that record with an 800 acre solar farm in Louisa County in 2020. Solarize Johnson and Linn Counties brought a combined 1,760 kilowatts of residential solar power to eastern Iowa in 2017 and 2018. Ideal Energy in Fairfield is currently building a solar array with special battery storage at Maharishi University of Management as well.

But still, only 844 Iowans are employed in solar. The state ranks 45 in solar jobs per capita despite 2018 growth, according to the census, which is conducted annually by the Solar Foundation.

Overall, U.S. solar employment has risen 159 percent since 2010 and is projected to continue growing. The price of solar installation has fallen dramatically, too. At the utility scale, the cost of a one Watt segment of a solar panel dropped from $4.40 in 2010 to $1.03 in 2018. For residential panels, the cost dropped from $6.65 to $2.89 per Watt.

 

 

 

Iowa explores renewable energy storage


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Batteries can make solar arrays productive even after the sun goes down (flickr).

Julia Poska| November 8, 2018

Already a leader in wind energy, Iowa wants to expand its renewable energy portfolio even further. The Iowa Economic Development Authority granted $200,000 to Ideal Energy in Fairfield last month to study “solar plus” systems, solar arrays enhanced with energy storage capacity via batteries.

Without the addition of batteries, these solar grids would only supply power when the sun was shining. The batteries can supply power during outages and at night, and help “shave” energy bills by supplying energy at peak demand hours, when utility costs are highest.

Ideal Energy is currently building a large, 1.1 megawatt solar array with a 1.1 megawatt hour vanadium flow battery for the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield. This is the largest solar plus project in the state of Iowa and will cover about a third of the university’s annual energy needs.

Ideal is also installing a somewhat smaller array with a lithium-ion battery at the Agri-Industrial Plastics Company in Fairfield. The battery will provide nighttime power for the company’s 24-hour production lines and save them an estimated $42,000 annually.

With the Iowa Economic Development Authority grant, Ideal will assess and compare the performance, efficiency and maintenance of both systems in partnership with Iowa State University’s Electric Power Research Center. A statewide committee, established by the 2016 Iowa Energy Plan, will evaluate the research to inform future solar plus projects in the state.

 

 

Plea for Iowa to join U.S. Climate Alliance


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An Iowa wind farm extends as far as the eye can see. (News/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2018

President Trump decided to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord in September, and since then numerous U.S. governors have expressed their desire to stay in the treaty through the U.S. Climate Alliance.

The bi-partisan Climate Alliance is “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” Its members represent 40 percent of the total U.S. population and at least $7.4 trillion dollars in U.S. gross domestic product. Sixteen governors are members of the alliance currently, and a democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives is hoping to add Governor Reynolds to that list. Representative Charles Isenhart of Dubuque presented a letter to the Iowa Energy Center on Monday, asking that Iowa join the alliance. Isenhart also proposed a bill in the House of Representatives that would require Iowa’s membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Isenhart said to The Register,“We’ve already done a lot and are doing a lot and have some of the mechanisms in place to do more. We should be joining if for no other reason than to take credit for what we’ve already done.” The state of Iowa leads the nation in wind energy production, and is expected to generate more than forty percent of its energy from the wind by 2020.

Julie Cerqueira is executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. She said in a letter,

“As I read the Iowa Energy Plan, it is clear that many of the state’s energy priorities align with the priorities of the Alliance — a focus on innovation, workforce development, modernizing our electrical grids and promoting the expansion of electric vehicles. Furthermore, Iowa’s long history of leadership in clean energy, in particular the successful deployment of wind power at scale, makes its membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance both logical and valuable.”

A spokesperson for Governor Reynolds says that the governor has not yet considered joining the U.S. Climate Alliance.

 

 

Wind energy continues to be a competitive and growing industry


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Wind turbines are an increasingly common site along rural Iowa roads. (Samir Luther/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | September 12, 2017

The recently released 2016 Wind Technologies Market Report found wind energy to be a competitively priced and growing part of the U.S. energy picture.

According to the annual U.S. Department of Energy report, wind energy is expected to continue being a cheaper option for consumers than other energy sources. Without figuring in federal tax credits and state-run programs, wind energy costs an average of 5 cents per kilowatt hour whereas a highly efficient natural gas power plant charges consumers an average of 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

The authors also found that wind turbines erected in 2016 are taller and more powerful than in years past, allowing them to generate more energy. In the last five years alone, the generating capacity of individual wind turbines has increased by 11 percent.

About 8,203 megawatts of new wind energy was added to the U.S. energy portfolio in 2016, which made up 27 percent of energy infrastructure additions last year. Twelve states now produce more than 10 percent of their energy with wind while Iowa and South Dakota remain the only states that generate upwards of 30 percent of their energy with turbines. Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa have the highest wind-capacity nationwide.

The entire U.S. Department of Energy Wind Technologies Report can be read here.