Leaders of the offshore wind industry in the U.S. are calling for Congress to invest in ramping up production of wind energy.
The industry called on Congress to invest during a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel on Thursday, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The Biden administration is also making a push for wind energy development to meet the president’s climate goals during his term. President Joe Biden set the goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 when he first started his term. Currently, the country generates 42 megawatts of offshore wind power. The plan to increase investment in wind power could reduce carbon and create jobs.
At Thursday’s committee meeting, Republican members of the committee voiced their concerns about discussing offshore wind power when energy prices are rising and colder weather approaches. Democrats argued the significant cost of climate change made the discussion important to the committee.
No commitment to increase investment into offshore wind power was made on Thursday, but industry leaders said the commitment needs to be long term to ensure competition.
The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center last month submitted testimony from five “expert witnesses” to the Iowa Utilities Board regarding Alliant Energy’s proposed base rate increases, currently under review.
The environmental groups disapprove of the proposal overall and said they believe they have identified alternative “solutions that will save customers money while cleaning up Alliant’s generation mix.”
Below are summaries of Alliant’s proposal and the environmental groups’ critique.
About Alliant’s proposal
On April 1, 2019, Alliant customers began seeing an interim base rate increase (about $8 for the typical residential customer) on their energy bills.
The company plans to further raise the rate beginning January 1, 2020. The total increase of $20 (24.45%) for typical residential customers would bring about $203.6 million in revenue into the company annually.
In a proposal to customers, Alliant said the company is “investing in new wind farms, energy grid technologies including advanced metering infrastructure, and environmental controls that reduce emissions.”
The company has also said that the additional cost to customers would be offset over time by reductions in other costs like energy efficiency.
The proposed increases are awaiting a hearing in November from the Iowa Utility Board. If the increases are not approved, Alliant would have to refund customers for excess paid during the interim increase.
The IEC/ELPC perspective
The IEC and ELPC have both economic and socioeconomic concerns about the proposal, as outlined in their testimony to the IUB. The testimony also providedeconomic analysis of the utility’s current coal power generation.
A few highlights from the testimony include:
Coal generation costs more than renewables. An analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute Principal Uday Varadarajan on behalf of the two organizations found that the cost of Alliant’s coal generation exceeds that of projected renewable energy costs. Retiring three Alliant coal plants and purchasing market energy or purchasing or generating wind energy could save customers $16 million in 2020, he found. This was proposed as an alternative move for Alliant to make, increasing renewables while reducing rather than increasing cost to consumers. (Read more from U.S. Energy News).
Revenue would be spent on wasteful initiatives. The groups call out one initiative Alliant has proposed — putting power lines underground — as a poor use of consumer funds.
Proposed solar programs could undermine the industry. The groups believe Alliant’s new community solar program (implied to be funded in part by the rate increase) would compete with solar businesses and potentially create a monopoly. They said the proposal also includes measures similar to those proposed in the “Sunshine Tax” legislation earlier this year to increase cost for solar customers.
Though many neighbors of wind farms complain that the turbines are an eyesore and that their whirring causes headaches or disturbs sleep, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that the noise from wind farms causes any harm to humans beyond annoyance.
Those reviews, conducted a few years ago, found no link between health outcomes and wind turbines, though they did find evidence of annoyance. The authors of the new report believe that risk perception plays a major role in perceived “annoyance” for neighbors of wind farms. Those that have a negative view of the turbines will be more likely to report negative health outcomes, whether or not they are actually exposed to harmful noises. Those that receive monetary compensation for the potential nearby nuisance will be less likely to report annoyance or health problems.
Nearly 37 percent of energy produced in energy is generated by wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. At over 8,400 megawatts, Iowa has the second highest wind power capacity in the nation. Ten wind power facilities have saved over 8.8 million metric tons of atmospheric carbon and provided over 7,000 jobs since the state started developing wind power infrastructure almost 20 years ago.
The authors of the report believe the benefits of the industry outweigh potential annoyances to neighbors.
“Given the evidence and confounding factors, and the well-documented negative health and environmental impacts of power produced with fossil fuels, we conclude that development of electricity fromwind is a benefit to the environment,” they wrote. “We conclude that wind energy should result in a net positive benefit to human health.”
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.
The state of Iowa is projected to source 40 percent of its energy from wind by the year 2020 according to a recent report.
Navigant Consulting released an analysis last week predicting wind-related economic development in the state. According to the report, wind power is expected to provide 17,000 additional jobs and $9 billion in economic activity over the next three years. The Hawkeye state has already benefited from $11.8 billion in project investment and more than 8,000 wind-related job placements.
Kathy Law is a real estate lawyer for wind developers and comes from a long line of Iowa farmers. In an interview with Yale’s Climate Connections, she said, “I think for the most part it’s helpful just that I’m a farmer that can talk the language with the farmers.” Law pointed out that wind can provide a steady income flow for landowners. She added, “It’s a product just like our corn and soybeans. Why not harness it and benefit from it?”
Wind development in Iowa also generates tax dollars for the state. Over the next four years, wind-related projects are expected to yield $370 million in property, income and sales tax. This money, which flows into counties, helps to pay educators, pave roads and provide rural medical care.
Nationwide, wind energy provides 5.5 percent of all electricity used. In Iowa, wind provides 36 percent of electricity used. In terms of wind-energy employment, Iowa is second only to Texas and is expected to continue leading the way in renewable energy through 2020.
Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. He said, “Wind does not provide just well-paying jobs either, many Iowans also know wind farms are the new ‘drought-resistant cash crop’ in Iowa, paying up to $20 million a year to Iowa farmers.”
According to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Energy, Iowa is among the nation’s leaders in wind energy. Over twenty percent of Iowa’s in-state electricity generation can be attributed to wind power, the highest percentage in the country — and the DOE says that number could grow to twenty-five. Continue reading →
Chris Desjardins’ post-mortem donation to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will help fund green-energy projects at some state parks.
Desjardins was an engineer for Pella Corporation who passed away in 2009.
With the help of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, IJOBS and the Resource Enhancement and Protection Fund, Desjardins’ donation will fund a $1.1 million project that includes renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and geothermal systems.