Tag Archives: clean 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.

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Step forward for solar energy in Iowa

iowa_solar_panels
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

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.”

Clean Power Plan: An Opportunity for Iowa

Unparalleled power

President Barack Obama greets attendees, including Iowa Environmental Council Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer (pictured), in the Blue Room before he delivers remarks on the Clean Power Plan in the East Room of the White House, Aug. 3, 2015.

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the finalization of the Clean Power Plan, a landmark standard that sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

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), and improve Iowa’s economy, protect our communities, safeguard our working lands and strengthen our energy independence.

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. Both goals are based on reductions from 2012 carbon pollution levels. However, the baseline or starting point for those calculations has changed. Therefore, while the final Clean Power Plan calls for Iowa to cut carbon pollution from its power plants by 41%, this cannot be directly compared to the originally proposed 16% reduction.

As a national wind energy leader, Iowa is well-equipped to meet this modest goal, and could have achieved a significantly stronger goal. The final Clean Power Plan presents significant opportunities for Iowa’s wind sector to help reduce emissions in other states.

“We applaud the EPA and Administrator McCarthy’s leadership in finalizing the Clean Power Plan,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer, who was among leading clean energy advocates invited to join President Obama at the White House for a media event announcing the finalization of the plan. “However, Iowa’s carbon reduction goal remains one of the lowest in the country. While achievable, this modest reduction goal doesn’t begin to realize Iowa’s full clean energy potential.”

As a national leader in wind energy generation and manufacturing, Iowa is already on track to achieve and surpass its carbon reduction. Wind energy accounts for 28.5 % of Iowa’s electrical generation – the highest of any state. Recent studies show that Iowa’s wind energy potential is over 570,000 MW and 20,000 MW of this could be developed by 2030.

“Though the Council would have liked to see a stronger goal, we look forward to working with the state’s leaders over the next year to shape a strong implementation plan that maximizes Iowa’s potential for renewable energy growth and energy efficiency savings,” said Climate and Energy Policy Specialist Cindy Lane.

By increasing the regional and national demand for clean energy, the Clean Power Plan will expand opportunities for wind as well as solar energy development, strengthening Iowa’s economy and job market.

In addition to improving Iowa’s economy, the Clean Power Plan benefits the state’s communities, cultural heritage and environment. By cutting carbon pollution and encouraging a transition to clean energy, the Clean Power Plan will make Iowa a safer, healthier and more attractive place to live and work.

Read the final Clean Power Plan

Analysis shows Iowa well-prepared for Clean Power Plan

In anticipation of the expected August release of the final Clean Power Plan, which will establish the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Council has been evaluating various options for Iowa to reduce carbon pollution to comply with the final standard.

Iowa’s leadership in wind energy has already cut carbon pollution and positioned the state to comply with its proposed 16% reduction goal. However, other actions resulting in carbon pollution reductions (including the retirement of older coal plants, the conversion of coal plants to natural gas, and the maintenance of modest energy efficiency programs) need to be evaluated, as well as Iowa’s potential to comply with a stronger reduction goal.

To conduct this analysis, Council staff used a publicly available modeling tool from Synapse Energy Economics to quantify the emissions reductions from five key actions that are already reducing carbon emissions in Iowa or will reduce emissions before 2020:

  • Construction of 1,964 MW of wind per three MidAmerican wind projects (Wind VIII, IX and X) and one Alliant wind project;
  • Retirement of 940 MW of old, inefficient coal plants (including CIPCO Fair Station, MidAmerican Neal North 1 & 2 and Walter Scott 1 & 2, Alliant Lansing 3, Dubuque 3 & 4, and Sutherland 1 & 3, and Pella);
  • Conversion of 497 MW of old coal plants to natural gas (including Ames 7 & 8, Alliant Kapp, MidAmerican Riverside, and Corn Belt Earl Wisdom);
  • Continuation of existing utility efficiency programs saving a modest 1% of retail sales annually;
  • Construction of a more efficient natural gas combined cycle power plant by Alliant Energy in Marshalltown
Impact of existing and planned changes on Iowa’s rate of carbon emissions Synapse CP3T v. 1.4 results, prepared by the Iowa Environmental Council, July 2015

Impact of existing and planned changes on Iowa’s rate of carbon emissions
Synapse CP3T v. 1.4 results, prepared by the Iowa Environmental Council, July 2015

Iowa’s baseline emissions rate in 2012 was 1,552 lbs/MWh. The EPA’s proposed 16% reduction is 1,301 lbs/MWh. The five actions analyzed above bring Iowa’s emissions to 1,105 lbs/MWh, well below the proposed EPA goal. This means that Iowa will likely be in compliance with the 2030 goal as early as 2020.

If the final goal is stronger, modest additional actions will allow Iowa to comply. To evaluate Iowa’s compliance potential using energy efficiency and wind energy alone, the Council used a publicly available modeling tool from MJ Bradley & Associates.

If Iowa’s reduction goal is approximately 29% rather than 16%, Iowa would need to reduce its emissions rate to 1,103 lbs/MWh by 2030. Iowa could reach this goal by adding 22 MW of wind per year and maintaining a 1% annual energy efficiency savings from 2020-2029. If Iowa’s goal is even stronger– a 42% reduction – Iowa would need to reduce its emissions rate to 906 lbs/MWh by 2030. Iowa could comply by adding 170 MW of wind per year and maintaining a 1% annual energy efficiency saving from 2020-2029. These actions are readily achievable: From 2008 through 2015, Iowa averaged over 635 MW in wind capacity additions annually and has seen over 1,000 MW of wind constructed in a single year.

Per these evaluations, as well as those of several other clean energy experts, Iowa is well-equipped to meet its proposed 16% carbon reduction goal or a significantly stronger goal. Regardless of the final goal, we look forward to working with the state’s leaders to shape a strong implementation plan that maximizes Iowa’s potential for renewable energy growth and energy efficiency savings.