Category Archives: General News

Council welcomes communications & development intern

Communications & Development Intern Zoe Muehleip

Communications & Development Intern Zoe Muehleip

The Iowa Environmental is pleased to welcome Zoe Muehleip to its team. Zoe joined the Council in August of 2015, and will serve as a communications and development intern during the 2015 fall semester.

During her internship, Zoe will assist the Communications and Development Departments with an assortment of tasks including creating outreach materials, strengthening social media and event planning.

“I am interested in pursuing a career in sustainable development or environmental advocacy, so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the Iowa Environmental Council,” Zoe said. “I am particularly interested in water and soil resource management, and look forward to developing a more in-depth understanding of these and other environmental problems, and learning what it takes to advocate for their solutions through an organization.”

Zoe is a senior at Simpson College studying Environmental Science and Graphic Design. Prior to working with the Council, she worked as a research intern at Chiang Mai University’s Forest Restoration Research Unit while studying in Thailand during the spring of 2015. After graduation, Zoe is considering graduate studies in sustainability or further environmental sciences.

“Zoe brings a passion for protecting and preserving our natural resources, as well as a broad understanding of environmental issues and how they affect other aspects of society. That knowledge, combined with her research, writing, design and event experience will be a huge asset to the Council,” said Communications and Outreach Director Katy Heggen.

“Zoe has already proven herself to be motivated, smart, capable and a quick-learner,” said Development Director Jamie Burch “We look forward to working with her to strengthen support for the Council and its mission.”

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A proposal that would have hindered access to solar energy has been withdrawn thanks in part to the action of the Council and its allies.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

Warnings for blue-green algae blooms reach new heights

Submitted to the Iowa Environmental Council by Sheryl Paul.

Submitted to the Iowa Environmental Council by Sheryl Paul.

A new state water quality-related record has been set, and it is likely the number will continue to climb in the coming weeks.

Today, DNR issued two beach advisories warning Iowans to stay out of the water at two State Park beaches due to high levels of microcystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae blooms that can make people sick. This week’s advisories week bring the total number of microcystin warnings posted this year to 25, surpassing the previous record – 24 warnings – set in 2013. It’s likely we’ll continue to see additional beach warnings between now and Labor Day, the last week of the DNR beach monitoring program.

Blue-green algae, which is caused by a combination of high levels of phosphorus pollution and increased temperatures, has long been an issue in Iowa. However, in recent years, the high levels of microcystin in Iowa lakes and resulting beach warnings have been on the rise.

Since 2006, DNR has issued 139* beach warnings for levels of microcystin exceeding 20ug/L, a level deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization. Nearly two thirds (91) of these warnings have been posted in the past four years. Additionally, more than half (23) of the 39 State Park beached monitored by DNR have made an appearance on the DNR warning list, many making repeat appearances.

While the problem has increased in Iowa in recent years, we’re not alone. According to a recent report from scientists at Oregon State University and the University of Northern Carolina, blue-green algae blooms are are “a poorly monitored and underappreciated risk to recreational and drinking water quality in the United States, and may increasingly pose a global health threat.”

To reduce the occurrence of these harmful algae blooms we must reduce the phosphorus pollution coming from farms, city lawns, wastewater treatment systems that is feeding the algae. Failing to reduce these sources of phosphorus pollution not only puts our health at risk, but also threatens safe drinking water, has negative economic impacts on communities and our quality of life.

It’s important to note that while DNR monitors State Park beaches for this toxin, the problem is not isolated to these lakes. Many other public and private beaches not monitored by DNR are also susceptible to blue-green algae blooms. Also, while swimming activities drop off after Labor Day, the danger of exposure to blue-green algae continues as long as the hot, sunny weather lasts, so the public must continue to be vigilant.

Toxic blue-green algae blooms create blue to green murky water, visible surface scum and a foul odor. The blooms can spread across the water but tend to accumulate in shoreline areas. Contact with water at or above 20 ug/L can result in breathing problems, upset stomach, skin reactions, and even liver damage. Inhaling water droplets containing toxic blue-green algae can cause runny eyes and nose, cough, sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.

Earlier this summer, Iowa’s public health leaders announced plans to require doctors to report “microcystin-toxin poisoning” to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

If you think you or your pets may have been exposed to toxic blue-green algae, thoroughly wash it off with fresh water. If you or your pet experience symptoms associated with high microcystin levels after suspected exposure, seek medical or veterinary care immediately.

Weekly beach advisories can be found on the DNR website. Call the DNR Beach Monitoring Hotline at 515-725-3434 to report a potential blue-green algae bloom.

Records showing State Park Beaches with documented Microcystin levels exceeding 20 ug/L dating back to 2006 are available on the Iowa Environmental Council’s website.

*Excludes 2008 when beaches were not monitored due to a diversion of DNR resources to address extreme flooding in the state.

Report finds Clean Power Plan will boost Iowa economy, create jobs

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Today, the Iowa Wind Energy Association released The Economic Impact of Iowa’s Wind Potential to Meet Carbon Reduction Goals, a report showing an increase in the demand for wind energy – spurred by the Clean Power Plan – will translate to expanded job creation and economic development in Iowa.

Depending on the amount of wind installed in Iowa over the next 15 years, Iowa could create an average of 483 to 6,424 wind-related jobs each year, and as many as 10,992 jobs during the peak year of wind turbine installment.

The report, authored by Dave Swenson, an associate scientist in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University, lays out an economic impact analysis of four wind energy scenarios for using wind energy to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, released earlier this week. By establishing state-specific carbon pollution reduction goals based on each state’s energy portfolio, the Clean Power Plan will cut 32% of carbon pollution from U.S. power plants by 2030 (from 2005 levels).

“The Clean Power Plan presents a huge economic opportunity for Iowa,” said Climate and Energy Policy Specialist Cindy Lane. “As a national wind energy generation and manufacturing leader, we have the resources and infrastructure to meet our own goal, and help other states meet their goals. This report provides a clear picture of how the Clean Power Plan can benefit Iowa by creating jobs and adding value to our economy.”

The final Clean Power Plan calls for Iowa to reduce its carbon pollution rate to 1,283 lbs/MWh by 2030, a slight increase from the originally proposed 1,301 lbs/MWh. At the end of 2014, wind energy accounted for 28.5 % of Iowa’s electrical generation – the highest of any state.

“Iowa’s early actions to transition to cleaner energy will be further encouraged under the final Clean Power Plan,” Lane noted. “In short, Iowa can get a jumpstart on meeting its carbon reduction goal by submitting a timely, state plan and investing early in 1) renewable energy projects and 2) energy efficiency projects implemented in low income communities. The sooner that Iowa submits a final state plan detailing its Clean Power Plan implantation strategy, the sooner Iowa can get credit for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that are constructed/implemented after that date. These early credits can be banked, and counted toward carbon pollution reduction requirements during 2022-2029.”

Scenarios in the report evaluate wind installation levels starting at 2,320 MW and ending at 15,000 MW – all well within Iowa’s wind capacity; recent studies show 20,000 MW could be developed by 2030. Labor income totals could reach up to $114 million in the first year, and have the potential to grow to $594 million by 2030. Value added to the economy could hit $2.1 billion by 2030, bringing the final total output to as much as $3.56 billion in the final year.

“The Clean Power Plan will improve our economy, protect and support our communities, safeguard our working lands and strengthen our energy independence – Iowa really is in an ideal position,” Lane said.

The full report is available for download on the IWEA website.