Category Archives: Energy

Barb Andersen joins Council as Clean Energy Organizer

Clean Energy Organizer Barbara Andersen

Barbara Andersen

The Iowa Environmental Council is pleased to announce that Barbara Andersen has joined its staff as a clean energy organizer.

Andersen will work alongside Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer and Climate and Energy Policy Specialist Cindy Lane to advance policies and programs that encourage and facilitate clean energy growth and development, with a focus on mobilizing Iowans to advocate for clean energy leading up to the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.

“I’m excited to be here and look forward to working with volunteers and organizations to pose questions about clean energy to presidential candidates leading up to the Feb. 1 2016 Iowa Caucuses,” Andersen said. “The point of planning and coordination is to create action that brings about change, and I know that Iowans are up to the task.”

Andersen, a Waterloo, Iowa native, comes to the Council from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where she was an instructor in the Department of Urban Planning. Prior to teaching at Ball State University, Andersen served as the public transportation policy and planning manager for the Downtown Community Alliance, where she focused on growing the use of alternative modes of transportation in greater central Iowa.

Andersen is passionate about advocating for clean energy and energy efficiency, recognizing the far-reaching effects. This anonymous poem hangs in her home:

Turn off the lights
In the silence of your darkened home
You can hear a wild river whispering its thanks

She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Idaho, a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and a Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture from Iowa State University.

“Barbara academic background, coupled with her experience working on a diverse set of issues related to sustainability make her the perfect fit for this position,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer. “Iowans have a unique opportunity to shape the national clean energy conversation leading up to the election, and Barbara’s work with our supporters and allies to elevate this issue leading up to the caucuses will help ensure a strong clean energy future.”

Barbara can be contacted at andersen@iaenvironment.org.

Home-grown solar reaps opportunities for Iowa

September sunshine provided the perfect backdrop last week for a solar energy tour attended by Congressman David Young and staff for Senator Charles Grassley.

Co-sponsored by the Iowa Environmental Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Iowa Solar Trade Association, the tour highlighted innovative businesses in Polk County that are taking advantage of Iowa’s solar energy potential.

The Iowa State Capitol overlooks solar panels on PV panels on the roof of the Market One and its adjacent parking lot canopy. The Market One Building  was designed by Modus Engineering, which has developed Iowa’s first commercial office building with a net-zero design.

The Iowa State Capitol overlooks solar panels on PV panels on the roof of the Market One and its adjacent parking lot canopy, one of the stops on the solar tour. The Market One Building was designed by Modus Engineering, which has developed Iowa’s first commercial office building with a net-zero design.

Stops along the solar tour included:

  • Van Meter, Inc: This wholesale distributor of “automation, electrical, datatcomm, lighting, power transmission and clean energy products and services” (including solar panels and products) also cuts its own energy costs with a 3.5 kW solar installation at its Urbandale facility.
  • Hy-Vee (Urbandale Store): Iowa’s largest private employer is quickly growing its alternative energy installations, with electric vehicle charging stations at 30 of its stores, wind and solar powered light installations at 5 stores, and solar installations at 2 stores, including its Urbandale location.
  • The World Food Prize: The organization’s headquarters prove that modern solar technology can fit seamlessly with historic architecture. Rooftop solar panels installed on the LEED platinum facility save the organization nearly $3,300 each year.
  • Market One Building designed by Modus Engineering: By utilizing PV panels on the roof of the Market One and its adjacent parking lot canopy, MODUS Engineering has developed Iowa’s first commercial office building with a net-zero design. The building produces more power than it consumes, allowing excess power to be used by the utility company and customers on the local grid.

By utilizing home-grown solar energy, these Iowa businesses are keeping valuable jobs and dollars in our state: The solar industry supply chain provides jobs to 900 Iowans and supports nearly 50 Iowa businesses.

Step forward for solar energy in Iowa

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A proposal that would have hindered access to solar energy has been withdrawn thanks in part to the action of the Council and its allies.

Late Thursday afternoon, Pella Cooperative Electric withdrew a proposal that would have required members with solar panels to pay a fixed charge of $85 month – more than three times the fixed charge for its other members.

Pella Cooperative Electric had cited a “cost-of-service study” conducted earlier this year as the basis for its original proposal. According to the coop, the study concluded members with solar panels were not paying their share of the fixed costs of maintaining the grid. The study, which Pella Cooperative Electric labeled “confidential” and “not subject to distribution”, is unlikely to properly value all of the benefits provided by solar.

“This proposal was never supported by data showing it was needed, in fact, we are confident that solar is bringing value to the coop,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer. “We hope that this opens the door to a larger discussion of how we can bring more solar to rural electric coops across the state.”

The Council and its allies submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this summer asserting that the proposal violates Iowa Code, which prohibits discrimination against a customer based on the customer’s choice to use renewable energy. These allies include the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, Solar Energy Industries Association, Vote Solar, and Bryce Engbers and Mike Lubberden – two coop members with solar panels.

“Pella Cooperative Electric’s proposed $85 fee was extreme and would have made keeping or installing solar panels infeasible for many of the coop’s members,” Baer said. “Some members ran the numbers and found that despite the savings from the energy their panels produced, the fixed fee would have exceeded those savings, causing them to actually lose money. Utilities around the U.S. have been proposing these unreasonably high fixed charges as one way to stop customers from moving to solar.”

This announcement comes on the heels of Alliant Energy’s recent reversal of its decision to not allow net metering for projects financed with third-party purchase agreements, a practical and popular financing option for solar energy projects. The Council and its allies intervened in this case as well.

We applaud Pella Cooperative Electric and Alliant Energy on their recent decisions to scratch these proposals, and remain committed to continuing to expand and improve access to solar, wind and energy efficiency, and continuing the transition to clean energy in Iowa

Agenda announced for 2015 Annual Conference

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Today, we are excited to announced seven sessions featuring a dynamic slate of speakers hailing from across Iowa, the Midwest and as far as Washington D.C., that will take the stage to share their knowledge and expertise at our 2015 Annual Conference, Elevate: Creating an Environment of Action, on Friday, October 2, 2015 at Drake University in Des Moines.

Join us to learn about work being done in Iowa to elevate agricultural action on climate issues, be inspired by one man’s quest to clean up our rivers one piece of garbage at a time, dive into the sociology of sustainability, engage in conversations about bridging the clean energy divide, and more!

View this year’s agenda and reserve your spot alongside Iowa’s environmental leaders today.

The theme of this year’s conference, which also marks the Council’s 20th anniversary, is elevate. Sessions will focus on providing participants with knowledge, information and resources to identify opportunities, define moments and move interest to action.

As always, the conference will also feature networking opportunities, top-notch exhibitors and a delicious lunch featuring seasonal produce.

Take advantage of early bird registration rates, ending Sept. 4, and register today.

Our  conference is also a great opportunity to connect your organization with a unique cross-section of Iowa’s environmental community. Register as an exhibitor. Don’t delay – space is limited.

Questions? Prefer to register via phone? Contact Communications & Outreach Director Katy Heggen at Heggen@iaenvironment.org or 515-244-1194 x210.

Interested in sponsoring our conference? Contact Development Director Jamie Burch at burch@iaenvironment.org or 515-244-1194 x202

Clearing barriers to clean energy

solar_energy_Iowa is a national wind energy leader, solar has been gaining momentum in recent years, and both have significant potential for continued growth in the state. However, to facilitate growth and reap the many environmental, economic and community benefits of clean energy, Iowa must create policies and practices that encourage a transition to clean energy. This includes improving access and removing barriers – two priorities for the Council.

In the past year, Alliant Energy has informed some customers that they would not allow net metering, for third-party purchase agreements, a practical and popular financing option for solar energy projects. Last week, following objections from customers and clean energy advocates including the Council who believed this decision violated the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, Alliant informed these customers that is has decided to reverse this decision.

“Without net metering, which lets customers to bank excess power for later use, many of these projects would not be financially viable,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer. “As a result of this reversal, more Iowans will be able to move forward with solar projects and realize the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy.”

The Council joined coalition partners including the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association (ISETA), Iowa Interfaith Power & Light (Iowa IPL), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Winneshiek Energy District submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board opposing Alliant’s original refusal to net-meter third party purchase agreements earlier this summer.

While this move helped avert a substantial hurdle for many solar energy projects, it’s not the only barrier the Council and its allies have been battling this summer. In June, Pella Cooperative Electric announced it will charge customers with solar panels or other sources of self-generated energy a “facilities fee” of $85 per month – more than three times the $27.50 “facilities fee” for other customers.

Pella Cooperative Electric cites a “cost-of-service study” conducted earlier this year that concluded these customers were not paying their share of the fixed costs of maintaining the grid. This study has been difficult to obtain for review and is unlikely to properly value all of the benefits provided by solar.

Pella’s current $27.50 monthly fee is already high compared to what other utilities in Iowa typically charge, and the $85 fee is extreme. Utilities around the U.S. have been proposing these high fixed charges as one way to stop customers from moving to solar.

Clean energy advocates, including the Council, ELPC, ISETA, Iowa ILP, SEIA, Vote Solar, Bryce Engbers and Mike Lubberden, submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board asserting that the decision violates an Iowa Code prohibiting discrimination against a customer based on the customer’s choice to use renewable energy.

“As we continue to make progress for clean energy at the legislature, in rulemaking and the courts, I think we’re going to continue to see these utility efforts to make it more difficult to bring clean energy projects online,” Baer said. “However, support for clean energy in the state is strong, and it is diverse. The more we are able to leverage our collective voice and influence, the more successful we will be in overcoming these obstacles and transitioning to clean energy.”