Tag Archives: Press Release

Council offers new report highlighting growth, continued potential for Iowa solar energy

The cover of the Council's new publication on solar energy, released on January 30, 2014.

Already a national leader in renewable wind energy, Iowa also has the potential to be a leader in solar photovoltaic (PV) energy production, according to a new report by the Iowa Environmental Council.  The amount of solar energy Iowa could reasonably produce ranks 16th in the nation, and improvements in solar technology along with years of falling prices are helping build momentum in the budding industry.

“Customers are excited about solar energy, and it is showing up in many diverse settings—at farms, business, universities, utilities, and at homes around the state,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council.  “As interest in solar energy grows, we wanted to share an overview of the role this energy source can play in the mix of energy options Iowa has.”

The Council’s report, Real Potential, Ready Today:  Solar Energy in Iowa, explains how in addition to providing useful energy, solar PV offers many other benefits:  job creation, consumer savings, cleaner air and water, innovation and technology investment, and improved stability in the electric grid.

Download your copy of the Council’s new report now at iaenvironment.org/solar.

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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.

Dead Zone Decision: Court Ruling Forces EPA Action on Mississippi River Pollution

The U.S. District Court in Eastern Louisiana ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday to determine within six months whether to set new limits on the pollution that is fueling the dangerous algae growth choking the waters throughout the Mississippi River basin, the Gulf of Mexico and waters across the country.

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"The suit, filed a year and a half ago, challenged EPA’s denial of the Mississippi River Collaborative’s 2008 petition to EPA asking it to establish quantifiable standards and cleanup plans for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The suit charged that EPA had unlawfully refused to respond to the question posed to it, which is whether such federal action is necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act.  The court agreed with plaintiffs, holding that the Agency’s refusal to provide a direct answer was unlawful.

The result is a win for Iowans and others living up and down the Mississippi River who support clear, deliberate action to clean up polluted waters.  Here’s how Ann Alexander, lead attorney on the case at the National Resources Defense Council, described the result:

“In the simplest terms, the court ordered EPA to remove its head from the sand and make a decision whether to be part of the solution or part of the problem.  It’s a short and satisfying answer to a long and decidedly unsatisfying history of dithering inaction by EPA.”

At issue, Alexander explains, is EPA’s responsibility to ensure standards for cleaner water are put in place according to a reasonable timeline.  Alexander explains EPA has been clear about whether the standards are important:

“EPA has been acknowledging for more than a decade that this problem is severe, calling the nationwide damage from algae pollution a “sobering picture and a compelling reason for more urgent and effective action.”  More to the point, EPA has repeatedly gone on record saying that states have not done enough to solve the problem…”

But the federal agency has dithered on whether the standards are legally necessary–a finding that would trigger EPA’s responsibility to work quickly with states to set needed standards.

Perhaps shaken by the fierce industry opposition to its effort to set such limits in Florida, EPA simply refused to answer our question, saying only that setting federal limits if they were necessary would be a lot of time and trouble.

The Court’s decision, issued Friday does not tell the Agency how to address the problem, only to make a decision on the issue. However, EPA has repeatedly acknowledged the severity of the problem and stated that federal intervention is appropriate because states are not doing enough to solve it.

Plaintiffs in the suit included Gulf Restoration Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Prairie Rivers Network, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Sierra Club, and NRDC.  Attorneys at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, NRDC, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center brought the case.

Environmental groups call for clean water goals to reduce harmful algae blooms and protect clean water in lakes

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The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center filed a petition with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission Tuesday calling on Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to set water quality standards to protect clean water, public health, and recreation at 159 of Iowa’s publicly owned lakes.

Online feature:  See an interactive map of lakes included in the petition.

The proposed water quality standards will establish clear, science-based goals to prevent potentially harmful algae blooms and keep Iowa’s lakes clean and safe for swimming and recreation.

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"“These standards are focused on helping local communities prevent lake water quality problems that can make recreation less desirable, threaten aquatic life, and put people’s health at risk,” said Ralph Rosenberg, the Council’s executive director.

The safeguards the Council has proposed, called numeric nutrient criteria, will provide local community and watershed groups a way to know if soil and water conservation efforts around a lake are sufficient to achieve needed results.  They will also help the Iowa Department of Natural Resources write permits to protect lakes by managing pollution releases by industrial sites and municipal wastewater facilities.

The proposed standards would set goals for Secchi depth and chlorophyll-a , measurements of water clarity and the presence of potentially harmful algae.  They would also set goals for total nitrogen and total phosphorus in the lake, pollutants that contribute to algae growth and low water clarity.

Iowa State University lake expert John Downing said Iowa’s lakes have some of the highest nitrogen and phosphorus levels found anywhere in the world, leading to blue-green algae blooms that are unhealthy for ecosystems and people.

“Decreasing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus reaching a lake can lead to renewal and restoration of good water quality, and this has been shown in Iowa and throughout the world,” he said.

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Gulf Dead Zone signifies lack of action by EPA, states


This week, scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium completed their annual measurement of the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone, which measured 5,800 square miles, larger than the state of Connecticut.

The Dead Zone is an area of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River which is oxygen-deprived due to excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution coming primarily from agricultural sources throughout the Basin as far north as the River’s source in Minnesota, and including the state of Iowa.

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"In addition to causing the Dead Zone in the Gulf, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution harms waters throughout the Mississippi River Basin and its tributaries, threatening wildlife and recreation as well as the safety of drinking water.

“Record-high nitrate pollution levels in May through July have forced the Des Moines Water Works to use a nitrate removal system and blend water from other sources just to deliver safe drinking water to over 500,000 Iowans,” said Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, a member of the Mississippi River Collaborative.

The annual Dead Zone measurement makes the size of the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution problem in the Mississippi River Basin clear, and Iowa’s contribution of nitrogen and phosphorous that feeds this problem is among the largest of any state.

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