The Biden administration announced plans to produce half of the nation’s electricity through solar power by 2050, on Wednesday.
Last year, solar energy provided less than 4 percent of the country’s electricity, now the administration aims to raise production to 45 percent. A new report by the Department of Energy argues the U.S. must quadruple annual solar installations by 2025 in order to reach the administrations’ goal of decarbonizing the power sector.
Pressure to expedite the transition off of fossil fuels has increased due to recent natural disasters across the country, including Hurricane Ida in New Jeresy and New York, which have highlighted weaknesses in the current energy system.
With the cost of solar panels dropping over the last decade, solar has become one of the cheapest sources of energy for much of the U.S. The reduced costs has boosted the solar and wind energy market where growth has exceeded government and independent analysts predictions. In culmination, a U.S. Energy Information Administration report projects renewable energy sources will share 42% of the U.S. electricity mix by 2050 at our current growth rate.
Additionally, the administration hopes to reduce net emission from the power sector to zero by 2035, add hundreds of offshore wind turbines and ensure half of all new cars sold are electric by 2030.
In July, 2021 seven projects in Iowa City were given $60,000 to split to go towards climate action. This week some groups are starting to use their money for climate projects. One group, the Iowa City Domestic Violence Intervention Program, put their money towards installing solar panels.
Iowa City Domestic Violence Intervention Program currently has $31,000 from the city along with the Rotary Club. If they raise $36,000 they will be able to prevent the emission of 16.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Considering carbon dioxide is a main contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, this would be very helpful in reducing the risks of climate change.
The Iowa City Bike Library also received $10,000 from the city grant. They are using their money to update doors and windows to bring in more natural light, this way they will be able to use less artificial light. The Iowa City Bike Library has the goal of being carbon free in five years. Grants like these help them accomplish their goal.
Iowa City council approved the use of this money in the 2021 fiscal budget. Grants like these help businesses, nonprofits and schools lower their carbon emissions and reduce the risk of climate change in our community.
Two solar energy projects have been proposed this month in Iowa. One project will take place in Linn County, the other in Dubuque County.
Coggon Solar LLC filed an application last week for permission to build a 640-acre facility in Linn County. The planned acreage would meet the electricity needs of more than 16,000 households. The land is currently utilized for farming. The LLC is a partnership between the Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative. If the application is approved, the county would receive nearly $4.8 million in property taxes. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that long-term leases have already been signed by Coggon Solar and property owners on the land where the project plans to be.
Linn County isn’t the only area in Iowa preparing for a new solar energy project. Dubuque’s city council approved funding for a pilot program to help install solar panels on a few residents’ homes. The program will select 10 residents to participate this year, and each will receive $3,285. The program aims to decrease the burden of energy costs on low- to moderate-income households in the city.
Both programs come months after solar tax credits were not renewed by the Iowa Legislature. Hundreds of Iowans lost an average of $3,200 after the credits failed to pass, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.
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.”
The proportion of Iowa’s energy that comes from wind is at almost 60%, the highest in the United States.
Iowa added around 540 wind turbines this past year, despite the global pandemic, bringing the total number of wind turbines in the state to almost 5,900, according to the American Clean Power Association.
Some parts of Iowa have already made it far above 60%. In the Des Moines metro area, wind supplies more than 80% of its energy, which is 19% higher than in 2019, according to Mid American Energy.
Although wind is Iowa’s main energy source, solar energy is expected to increase dramatically in Iowa’s future. Seven large solar projects already under development in the state, and they will add roughly 1,740 megawatts to the grid once completed.
President Biden has set a goal for the nation to reach 100% sustainable energy use by 2050 through wind and solar energy. For Iowa, this is a very attainable goal. Sustainable energy has been on the rise in Iowa for the past decade. Coal supplied 71% of Iowa’s energy in 2010, and it now supplies only 22%.
Iowa continues to lead the nation in sustainable energy production, and the increase in sustainability isn’t projected to stop any time soon.
Webster County recently approved plans to build a 957-acre solar field. The energy produced by the panels would be able to power 30,000 homes.
Holliday Creek Solar LLC, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota will build the field and eventually transfer the site’s certificate to MidAmerican Energy. Construction is set to begin in the spring and conclude by next winter, according to Webster County planning and zoning administrator Jeff Johnson. The energy will be directed to a nearby substation, then exported to a transmission grid providing energy to other counties.
“We are moving in the right direction,” Johnson said many participating landlords and homeowners in the county are interested in this project.
While Iowa solar panels net capacity has grown from 2-megawatts (MW) in 2012 to as much as 160 MW in 2020, many counties have yet to adopt solar and wind ordinances which provide construction guidelines for these projects.
The Webster County Board of Adjustment approved the project on Jan. 18, followed by the Iowa Utilities Board on Feb. 3.
Alliant Energy announced the Clean Energy Blueprint for Iowa last week, a plan that will transition one of their coal-burning plants to nuclear energy and shut down the Lansing Generating station altogether.
The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) have publicly announced their support of the plan. By shuttering the Lansing Generating Station by 2022, converting the Burlington plant to nuclear energy and constructing more solar plants and battery storage stations, Alliant Energy will eliminate 487MW of coal-generated power in Iowa by 2026, according to an IEC news release.
Not only will eliminating coal plants reduce pollution, it will also save Alliant customers money. When Alliant Energy requested a 24% rate increase on residential customers in 2019, the ELPC and IEC contracted Uday Varadarajan, an expert data analyst, to examine the economics of Iowa’s coal plants and examine the cost of alternative forms of energy. He found that maintaining the coal plants was more expensive than both clean energy alternatives and buying power from the wholesale market. Retiring the Lansing plant and committing to expanding solar power will help prevent rate increases for customers in the future and help them avoid more that $300 million in costs over the next 35 years, according to an Alliant Energy press release.
Environmental activists hope that positive changes like this will spark further discussion and push companies throughout the Midwest to move away from carbon-based energy. Future efforts to move Iowa towards 100% renewable energy will benefit the environment and help save Iowans money.
The Iowa Environmental Council released Tuesday a report called “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable“. The report lays out the steps necessary for Iowa to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, a goal that many other states across the U.S. have already set for themselves in recent years.
The IEC concluded that, by 2050, Iowa will need to generate 30,000 to 61,000 MW of wind and 5,000 to 46,000 MW of solar energy to fully transition to renewable sources. The state currently generates 10,000 MW of wind and 110 MW of solar energy.
That sets a wide range, but the IEC analysis incorporated 12 studies on renewable energy growth with a variety of unknown variables. Electrification of fossil fuel sectors, like transportation, may increase exponentially by 2050, resulting in a higher demand for electricity. This, along with the current rate of general increase in electric demand, could alter the amount of renewable energy Iowa requires. The report also considers studies that incorporate the possible use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage as additional renewable energy options.
Iowa is currently one of the country’s leading producers of wind energy. According to an article posted by T&DWorld, Iowa generated 41.9% of its electricity using wind in 2019. However, continued growth of wind energy necessary for the plan’s success will require increasing support from Iowa’s government and residents.
Some support has waned in recent years. Renewable energy tax credits have reached their capacity, according to The Iowa Utilities Board, and some Iowans have become wary of the number of wind turbines dotting the countryside across the state. Public concern over the land and resources required to expand wind energy production is a hurdle that must be faced before the goals outlined in “Iowa’s Road to 100% Renewable” can be reached.
The new year will be a big one for solar power in Iowa. The Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) recently announced plans to start construction on a 100-megawatt solar farm on 800 acres in Louisa County at the end of 2019. This would be Iowa’s largest solar project to date, and will likely be completed at the end of 2020.
An Idaho company called Clēnera (pronounced clean-era) will develop and operate the farm, to be named Wapello Solar. According to conversions from Clēnera’s website, clean energy generated by Wapello Solar could offset carbon emissions equivalent to driving 8.8 billion miles or 8.5 million barrels of oil over 20 years.
CIPCO will purchase 100 percent of energy produced and share it among cooperative members, including the Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, which serves the construction area. Some of this energy will offset the loss of the the Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant in Palo, Iowa, of which CIPCO owned a 20 percent share and derived 20 percent of its generating capacity.
Homeowners in Linn County were encouraged to combine their buying power to significantly reduce the cost of installing solar panels this summer through the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative.
Organized by the City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County, The Nature Conservancy, Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa 350 and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), participants were offered a significant per Watt discount each time the volume of buyers surpassed program tiers. The base price for participants was $2.45/W. All participants received a $0.05/W discount each time the group buy reached one of four milestones: 50 kilowatts (kW), 150 kW, 250 kW, and 350 kW.
The program offered a total of 23 educational sessions, or Solar Power Hours, for interested parties to learn more about the evolving solar industry and this initiative.
Amy Drahos is a Senior Air Quality Scientist at Linn County Public Health. She said in a recent press release, “The community support for the Solarize program has been incredible. Nearly 500 people attended a Solar Power Hour or requested more information about the program, with 105 households deciding to install solar. This program was a success thanks to the enthusiastic response from Linn County citizens and the dedicated community partners who recognize the benefits of solar energy.”
In the end, 105 households signed up to install solar panel systems, and the initiative nearly double its highest goal of 350 kW, installing a total of 611 kW. The large group buy means that participants will receive a rebate of $200 per kilowatt installed, or an average of $1,164 per household.
Cedar Rapids Sustainability Coordinator, Eric Holthaus, commented on the city’s role in the program, “The City served as an educational partner in this program. Solar technology ten years ago is not the same as solar today. We enjoyed helping residents become informed on this energy option, and it looks like many were excited to take a step toward cleaner energy and lower utility bills.”
The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative also provides a substantial environmental payoff. It is estimated that program participants will generate a combined total of nearly 700,000 kWh of clean solar energy annually. MREA reports that 927,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and 14 million gallons of water will be offset by this initiative during the first year alone.
The MREA has implemented this program in several other parts of the Midwest including Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Urbana-Champaign and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. However, “The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program contributed the highest kW contracted to date,” according to MREA Executive Director, Nick Hylla. He added, “There is obviously a tremendous amount of interest in solar energy in eastern Iowa.”
The program wrapped up on September 30th. All solar installations will be completed by December 31, 2017.