Tag Archives: energy efficiency

Bridging the Clean Energy Divide

In recent years, Iowa has become a national leader in renewable energy, increasing wind power, solar power and energy efficiency. The benefits of transitioning to clean energy and energy efficiency are many and range from strengthening our economy to improving our quality of life. Renewable energy also offers unique health and economic benefits for Iowa’s seniors and low-income individuals.

Join us for Bridging the Clean Energy Divide: Affordable Clean Energy Solutions for Today and Tomorrow, a panel discussion about the health and economic benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency for low-income individuals and seniors in Iowa.

Bridging the Clean Energy Divide: Affordable Clean Energy Solutions for Today and Tomorrow
April 7 | 7:30-9:00 a.m.
Olsen Center | Des Moines University
No cost to attend, RSVPs are appreciated 

Panelists include:
Eric Burmeister, Executive Director, Polk County Housing Trust Fund
Kirk Kraft, Project Development & Landowner Relations, RPMAccess
Kate McCormick, Midwest Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council
Dr. Yogesh Shah, MD, MPH, Associate Dean-Department of Global Health, Des Moines University

Energy efficiency and renewable energy bring multiple benefits to people, including making homes safer and more comfortable, giving people control over their own energy generation, reducing pollution costs, and making electricity bills smaller and more predictable. All of these benefits are particularly important for low-income individuals.

Households with less disposable income benefit most from cutting energy costs, and are already disproportionately affected by the impacts of pollution from other generation. Implementing policies that particularly help to expand access to clean energy for low-income families is critical for meeting the common goals of saving money, increasing healthy lifestyle, and creating high-quality jobs.

Questions? Contact Climate/Energy Policy Specialist Cindy Lane at 515-244-1194 x203.

Iowa Utilities Board approves cuts to Alliant Energy’s efficiency efforts

The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) on Monday approved Alliant Energy’s plan to scale back energy efficiency goals at the same time the utility pursues a new $920 million plant in Marshalltown, punting on a chance to lead on energy efficiency and ensuring the utility’s Iowa customers will pay higher electric bills for years.

Available online:  The final order from IUB is available to download here.

“At a time when Iowa is defining its energy future, the IUB could have advanced Iowa’s leadership on energy efficiency, but instead it put that leadership in doubt,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, part of a coalition of environmental groups who intervened in the proceedings.  “Energy efficiency creates jobs and is the most cost effective way to meet demand for power, but instead we are taking the expensive path of new power plants.”

The new goals represent less than half the efficiency progress possible through cost-effective means even under the utility’s own analysis, commissioned in 2012. The decision comes at a time when many states in the Midwest and nationally are increasing the amount of energy saved, not reducing those savings.

“It is disappointing that the Board approved savings goals for Alliant Energy that leave significant amounts of cost-effective energy efficiency on the table,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council. “Energy efficiency is most valuable when new generation is needed, and a precursor to approving plans for a newer power plant should be to ensure that we are implementing all of the available cost-effective energy efficiency.”

Under the new goals, Alliant will attempt to save 1.1 percent in retail sales each year over the next five years. This is a sharp reduction from both the utility’s current goal of 1.3 percent or its recent performance of 1.4 percent.

In a blow to Iowa’s renewable energy industry, the Iowa Utilities Board will also allow Alliant Energy to suspend its growing incentive program for renewable energy installations.

“Solar installers in Alliant’s territory tell us the utility’s program has generated substantial interest among customers, and available data demonstrates the program has boosted solar installations in the last two years,” said Baer.  “It’s disappointing the Board would allow Alliant to halt this effort just as it is beginning to succeed and provide a positive return to the investment in building this program.”

While the approval of low savings goals is a step backward, the Iowa Utilities Board blocked an attempt by a small group of large industrial electric customers to opt out of participation in the utility’s program and further erode energy efficiency efforts.  The Board’s order does include some movement in the right direction.  Improvements since the last plan include:

* Dramatically expanded programs to encourage use of LED lighting
* New pilot programs to encourage behavioral change among utility customers and support energy efficiency at power-hungry data centers
* New support for combined heat and power technology, which will help the industrial sector and other large energy users produce two types of energy they need from one generation source

“These changes will benefit consumers, but they don’t make up for shortcomings in the Plan,” noted Mandelbaum.

Under Iowa’s energy efficiency policy, Iowa’s largest utilities submit energy efficiency plans for Iowa Utilities Board review every five years.  In addition to finalizing Alliant Energy’s plan, the IUB is considering a similar proposal by MidAmerican Energy, with a final order expected before the end of the year.

Iowa utilities’ energy efficiency proposals short on savings

A  review of five-year energy efficiency plans  submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board by MidAmerican Energy Company and Alliant Energy shows utilities are failing to deliver programs that will maximize the benefits of energy efficiency.

Utility energy efficiency programs save customers money by cutting wasted energy and by reducing the need for costly new power plants. The programs protect the environment by lowering demand for fossil fuels, and they create good jobs in Iowa for professionals who install energy efficient technologies and perform energy audits.

Energy efficiency programs take a range of forms including rebates for residential customers who weatherize their homes or purchase more efficient appliances and heating and cooling equipment and offering large commercial customers incentives to install efficient lighting or motors that waste less energy.

In testimony filed with the Board Monday, the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center and their partners demonstrated that MidAmerican Energy’s proposed programs would achieve just about half of what is possible and cost-effective through efficiency programs.

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Environmental groups: Alliant Energy puts shareholder profits above its customers with lackluster efficiency plan

Last month, the Council’s energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, explained our involvement in supporting strong utility energy efficiency plans before the Iowa Utilities Board this year.  On April 16, the Council and our partners filed our first testimony concerning Alliant Energy.

Interstate Power & Light, a Cedar Rapids-based subsidiary of Alliant Energy, has proposed saving roughly half as much energy through efficiency initiatives as its own analysis suggests is possible, a coalition of environmental organizations told the Iowa Utilities Board in testimony filed Tuesday.   Their testimony, which marks the beginning of debate over Alliant’s five year energy efficiency plan, comes at the same time Alliant has proposed a new natural-gas fired power plant to be constructed near Marshalltown.

“Energy efficiency is the most cost effective method for meeting rising electric demand.  Alliant knows that one dollar spent on energy efficiency efforts can return as much as two or three dollars in economic benefit, but the company proposed pursuing less than half of the energy efficiency gains available to it,” said Nathaniel Baer, whose organization, the Iowa Environmental Council, participated in the filing with the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Iowa Policy Project.

Indeed, a 2012 report by the Cadmus Group, a Massachusetts-based energy consulting firm, which was commissioned by Iowa utilities including Alliant, suggested Alliant could save over 2% of annual retail electric sales through cost-effective efficiency methods, while the utility has proposed saving just over 1%.

“When we considered the wide range of cost-effective efficiency opportunities available to Alliant, in addition to the utilities’ own analysis, it became clear to us that doubling Alliant’s proposed efficiency savings is readily achievable. The utility has an obligation to save as much energy as possible through its efficiency programs before it builds a new power plant,” said Josh Mandelbaum of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“Iowa Utilities Board leadership now is necessary to maintain the economic benefits and consumer savings from energy efficiency into the future,” Mandelbaum said.

Based on past programs Iowa has been recognized as a national leader in energy efficiency.  The state’s leadership has brought many benefits to Iowa utility customers, including keeping electric rates low, reducing the need for imported fossil fuels, keeping air and water clean, and providing jobs in communities across the state.

According to the environmental groups, a range of strong utility managed efficiency programs are the key to realizing efficiency’s potential for Iowa.  The groups’ testimony identified several ways Alliant can strengthen its program offerings:

  • The industrial sector, the largest group of energy users, is of particular interest for efficiency gains.  Many industrial customers are good candidates for utilizing combined heat and power (CHP) technology to produce two types of energy they need from one generation source.  Significant potential for CHP is available in Iowa, including by other large institutional utility customers like colleges and hospitals.
  • Alliant should not cancel its innovative program for customer-sited renewable energy installations like solar photovoltaic (PV) just as the program is gaining momentum with customers.
  • Alliant should capitalize on the latest research on consumer behavior, which shows ratepayers are more motivated to save energy when they are made aware if their energy use exceeds their neighbors’.
  • Alliant should support a transition to high-efficiency lighting including LED technology in its service territory as well as achieving efficiency gains in power-hungry data centers including those operated by large information technology companies as well as those in local businesses hospitals, colleges, and other institutions.

The environmental groups plan to address a similar range of efficiency programs offered by MidAmerican Energy in testimony to be submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board in June.  Proceedings to address and finalize both utilities’ five-year plans will continue through the summer.  The plans take effect next year.

Iowa’s energy choices extend beyond coal, natural gas, nuclear

As Iowans, utilities and policy makers make choices about which sources of electricity to rely upon, we are not constrained by a choice between coal, natural gas or nuclear. Instead, we are fortunate to have abundant and clean energy resources in Iowa to choose from.

By using a balanced mix of resources like energy efficiency, wind, solar, and combined heat and power, we can meet Iowa’s energy needs, phase out our use of coal, and improve our economy and environment.

Nathaniel Baer


Energy efficiency. A recent study commissioned by Iowa’s investor-owned utilities concluded that in the next 10 years, Iowa could use cost-effective energy efficiency measures to meet 20 percent of Alliant and MidAmerican’s electric sales. In context, this potential energy savings is more electricity than Iowa now uses from natural gas, hydro power and nuclear combined.

Solar. Iowa has not begun to scratch the surface of our potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy. A national study released in 2012 shows that Iowa has the technical potential to meet over 100 times our annual electric use with solar PV. We could utilize a small portion of this resource to meet 10 percent or 20 percent of our electric needs in the very near future.

Solar PV produces energy when we need it most — during the day, during afternoons and especially during hot summer afternoons — making solar PV a very valuable and useful resource. Solar prices have come down dramatically in recent years and that trend is expected to continue.

Recent projects by Luther College and the University of Northern Iowa demonstrate that larger-scale solar projects can succeed in Iowa.

Combined heat and power. Combined heat and power technologies generate two forms of energy — heat and electricity — at the same time, very efficiently, from a single fuel. Combined heat and power is a good match for the energy needs of a wide variety of larger energy users, such as schools, hospitals, universities and manufacturers.

Several recent studies have estimated Iowa’s technical potential for CHP to be between 1,675 megawatts and 2,709 megawatts — equivalent to as much as 40 percent of the coal power generation in Iowa today. Combined heat and power units operate at all times and can use natural gas, bio gas and biomass as fuel sources.

Wind. We know that Iowa is a leading state on wind energy. At the end of 2012, Iowa had over 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity installed, keeping Iowa in the top three of all states. Iowa’s wind potential is over 500,000 megawatts, which would produce vastly more electricity than we use today.

Iowa’s wind energy is economically competitive and typically meets local needs today, but it also feeds into a regional market for electricity. This is true of wind energy installed in other states as well.

In fact, by expanding our electric transmission lines and strengthening the regional grid, we can rely more and more on wind energy generated in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. On the rare days when there is not much wind in Iowa, there is often wind elsewhere in the region. By expanding transmission and enabling more wind generation, we will also save more money than we spend on that infrastructure — due to the economic strength of wind power and added efficiency of a better electric grid.

Iowa clearly has the clean energy resources to replace coal generation, and doing so will provide significant economic and environmental benefits. In addition to big cost savings from resources like energy efficiency, wind and transmission, we can expect new jobs as well. For example, building 300 megawatts of solar over five years would create nearly 5,000 new jobs in the fifth year alone. Building 20,000 megawatts of wind would create over 63,000 construction jobs and another 9,000 permanent jobs. Building just some of the proposed transmission lines will create between 3,700 and 8,700 direct construction jobs and up to 16,000 total jobs.

Realizing the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy requires more than a clear choice, however. It requires sound public policies and the political will to put them in place.

The author is energy program director of the Iowa Environmental Council.  This essay appeared in the Des Moines Register on March 9, 2013.