Iowa sees explosive growth in solar, wind energy

Source: By Mike Fisher, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2016

Iowa is cultivating new ground toward a transformational shift to renewable energy and a resilient economy. With several record-breaking wind energy projects announced this year and impressive growth in solar, Iowa’s position as a renewable leader has never felt more secure. Iowa ranked first nationwide for wind projects starting construction or in advanced stages of development during the first half of 2016, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The explosive growth of wind and solar energy is occurring in a state that already ranks No. 1 nationally in the production of biorenewable fuels, holding the title of No. 1 producer of ethanol and No. 2 producer of biodiesel.  Iowa also ranks in the top 10 states for hydropower potential from existing dam structures with projects underway at Red Rock Reservoir and under study for Saylorville Reservoir.  When you add Iowa’s potential energy capacity from biomass fuels and biogas methane to energy, the state’s overall renewable energy capacity is staggering.

The recent wind energy announcements and state’s clean energy leadership are not happenstance. Visionary leadership years ago, including during Gov. Terry Branstad’s first tenure as governor, gave the state the foundation it needed to achieve success today. Wind energy generated in Iowa is already being sold across state lines, making it an important export for the Iowa economy. With strategic planning and long-term vision, Iowa has the opportunity to export home-grown renewable energy in a similar fashion as corn, beans and other agricultural commodities. We have barely tapped into the wind and solar potential.

That’s why I applaud Gov. Branstad and the state for undertaking the first-ever, statewide comprehensive energy planning process this year to ensure Iowa stays at the forefront of renewable technology, research and development.

Led by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and IEDA Director Debi Durham, the Iowa Energy Plan kicked off this year with four working groups. I was honored to serve on the energy resources group, and commend the state for putting together working groups that were fair, balanced and transparent. I am proud of the work we have done, and confident in our recommendations that will be considered for the final plan.

Key objectives put forth by our working group include increasing the amount of renewable energy generation through strategies like state tax policies that incent wind and solar development, a statewide net-metering policy that fairly compensates for distributed generation, working with local governments on standardization of local policies that allow for renewable energy growth, and investigating potential road blocks for consumer choice in self-generation of renewable energy. It’s also imperative to ensure renewable energy growth helps meet Clean Power Plan emission goals. These objectives were put forth knowing that strategies for implementation must achieve requisite levels of safety, affordability and reliability as well maintain or, better yet, enhance Iowa’s economic development advantage over competing states.

We also provided input that prioritizes initiatives to help position Iowa as a national leader in research and development with dedicated funding to advance university research of renewable energy and storage technology. Wind energy already is cost competitive with other energy sources, and innovation will drive down the cost further while also helping other Iowa resources like solar and biomass compete with outside resources.  We recognize that being a leader in renewable energy research and development enhances Iowa’s ability to create advanced renewable sector manufacturing jobs here at home by transferring or licensing technology to private sector industries operating in Iowa.  Advanced renewable sector job growth will in turn increase the opportunity for our colleges and universities to provide specialized training to meet demand.

Renewable energy is a perfect example of how good public policy can spur economic development. Bipartisan support in Iowa for policies like the state and federal tax credits have helped create the explosive investment we have experienced in these industries. These investments have a great impact on local communities, increasing land value and generating additional tax revenue that helps build roads and bridges and support local schools.

With our immense resource capacity and strong bipartisan support, the future of renewable energy in Iowa is exciting. I look forward to the unveiling of the Iowa Energy Plan this fall as a strategic blueprint to Iowa’s continued world leadership and growth in the diverse generation, use, and export of renewable energy.

 Mike Fisher is vice president of Impact7G and an Iowa Energy Plan Working Group member.