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

A proposal that would have hindered access to solar energy has been withdrawn thanks in part to the action of the Council and its allies.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

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 or 515-244-1194 x210.

Interested in sponsoring our conference? Contact Development Director Jamie Burch at 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.

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.”