Iowa ahead in meeting carbon reduction goals

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015

Continued growth of wind energy in Iowa places it ahead of other states in meeting a proposed rule that would require existing power plants to cut carbon emissions, a leader with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

Iowa would be required to cut carbon emissions 16 percent by 2030, under the proposed rule. The state’s target is lower than the 30 percent national average because of its investment in renewable energy development and energy efficiency, federal leaders have said.

Karl Brooks, the EPA’s regional director, said outcry against the rule, proposed in June, has been less than expected.

“The story of the summer here in the heartland is the dog that didn’t bark,” Brooks said in a telephone interview.

“Certainly, there were critics of the agency’s plan to work with states to reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants,” Brooks said. “But primarily the response that’s come from states and the utility sector and the electric distributors and customers is: ‘Let’s take a look at this proposal. Let’s work with the EPA to make it better.’ ”

The public comment period for the proposed rule has been extended to Dec. 1.

One of the early critics has not changed his stand. On Wednesday, Gov. Terry Branstad’s office said the “ill-advised proposed rule would threaten Iowa jobs and drive costs up for Iowa consumers.”

Critics have said it would slash hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and create an economic hit in the billions of dollars.

Brooks said the country faces “hundreds of billions of dollars in costs” by doing nothing, with climate change causing increased floods, hurricanes, wildfires and droughts that all U.S. taxpayers must cover.

“The economic costs are piling up with inaction,” he said.

Greenhouse gases, coming primarily from carbon dioxide, trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the Earth to warm, scientists say. That is blamed for creating more frequent and intense natural disasters. Power generation contributes 32 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases.

Iowa faces fewer challenges than other states in meeting the carbon reduction goals, since it leads the nation in the percentage of electricity powered by wind. Recent wind-generation projects include MidAmerican Energy’s nearly $2 billion investment.

Brooks said the EPA acknowledges that coal and natural gas will continue to “remain part of the foundation of generating energy in Iowa as well as every state.”

“However, one of the primary opportunities available to Iowa is the state’s long-bipartisan commitment to low-carbon or no-carbon energy,” he said. “In the wind energy, Iowa is lapping the field.”

Adopting energy generated from lower-carbon sources will drive down consumer bills, Brooks said. “There are legitimate concerns about costs, questions about availability and grid reliability, but what this agency has heard from utility companies and managers of the grid is: ‘We can do this. We can reduce carbon and maintain a reliable electric grid, and that over time, the costs that a family or a business or a farm pays for electricity will stay stable and actually begin to decline.’ ”