Iowa’s new energy plan: More renewable energy, stronger power grid

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Iowa’s new energy strategy envisions electric car-charging stations across the state, anaerobic digesters that turn animal waste to energy, and top state and federal researchers finding ways to store wind and solar energy.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds released the broad energy report Wednesday that looks at Iowa’s energy needs over the next decade. It provided 45 recommendations ranging from modernizing the state’s electric power grid to improving state tax credits for solar energy.

Reynolds and Debi Durham, Iowa’s economic development leader, said energy is key to economic development and job creation across the state, especially in rural areas.

“We want to ensure that Iowa remains a place where businesses and people want to call home,” Durham said during a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday.

Durham and Reynolds worked with nearly 50 energy, business, farm and community leaders over a year to develop the strategy. It builds on Iowa’s leadership in energy research, wind generation, biofuels development, and agricultural production, leaders said.

“Iowa has a tradition of leading on clean energy, and this strategy continues that,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “There’s a real chance to move Iowa forward.”

Iowa gets about 30 percent of its electricity from wind generation and is the leading producer of ethanol and biodiesel. The leading source of electricity in Iowa comes from coal.

Nathaniel Baer, the Iowa Environmental Council’s energy program director, liked a recommendation that separates Iowa’s tax credits for solar energy from federal incentives.

Now, Iowans can receive 60 percent of the federal tax credits, while businesses can receive half of the federal credit.

“It eliminates the year-to-year uncertainty and provides some long-term stability to the market,” Baer said.

The report said Iowans have invested $85 million in solar projects in 92 counties since 2012. They received about $11 million in state tax incentives.

“It’s really working across the whole state,” he said. “It’s a small pot of money that’s leveraged a lot of private investment.”

Mandelbaum said he sees significant job-creation opportunities if the state invests in Iowa research that drives solutions to large-scale storage for renewable energy. One of the complaints about wind energy, for example, is that it can’t be stored and tapped when demand is at its highest.

With research at Iowa State University and the Ames National Laboratory, a federal energy facility, Iowa is “positioned to become a leader in storage technology research and development,” the report said.

Mandelbaum said that could create a range of job opportunities.

“These technologies are getting closer to reality. … We think we’re close to figuring out energy storage, and with the inclusion in the energy plan, it positions Iowa to be a leader,” he said.

“It could be one of the next big technological breakthroughs,” he said.

While touting renewable energy opportunities, the strategy said Iowa needs “a diverse energy portfolio” that includes natural gas and coal. It noted strong opportunities, particularly in hydroelectric energy.

Iowa ranks 10th nationally for hydroelectric potential, but the state gets less than 2 percent of its electricity from water.

MidAmerican Energy and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives said they’re studying the report.

Chuck Soderberg, the association’s executive vice president, said the group wants to “assess the impact that implementing the final objectives might have on Iowa’s rural electric cooperatives and their member-owners.”

Among other recommendations in the 100-page report:

  • Adopting “voluntary, non-binding targets for renewable energy generation to continue its renewable energy success.”

The goals should be “sensitive to the risk of jobs leakage, and allow for excess renewable energy resources to be sold and moved through the regional transmission organization’s footprint,” the report said.

“Several states have announced aggressive clean energy targets with the goals of increasing energy security, reducing emissions, diversifying each state’s generation portfolio, and promoting economic development.”

Baer said he hopes the state sets goals that are truly aggressive, especially given that the state is closing in on getting about 40 percent of its energy from wind generation. Des Moines-based MidAmerican is investing $3.6 billion into wind, and Alliant Energy, $1 billion.

Durham said Google, Facebook and Microsoft have built large data centers in part because of low-cost, green energy.

  • Assessing the benefits and costs to modernize the state’s electric grid and developing strategies to manage increased cybersecurity risks.

Some of the transmission infrastructure is 30 to 50 years old, the report said. “As the energy infrastructure continues to age in Iowa and around the nation, capacity is exceeded, and the need for new technologies becomes more apparent.”

  • Developing an electric vehicle “charging corridor” that enables owners, both local and visiting, to “charge their vehicles more quickly and facilitate longer distance travel.” Possible corridors could be established on interstates 80, 35, 29, and 380.

“Electric vehicles provide a variety of benefits to Iowans, including reduced emissions, energy-efficient and cost-efficient transportation, use of the state’s growing renewable energy from the electrical grid, and protection from volatile petroleum prices,” the report said.

  • Developing plans that create energy from Iowa crop and livestock production — from building digesters to tapping methane gas to burning miscanthus to generate electricity.

“In Iowa, the use of biomass to produce electricity directly or to produce biogas remains an untapped potential and abundant resource,” the report said. “By 2030, it is projected that Iowa will lead the nation with 31 million tons in crop residue productions and manure that can be utilized for bioenergy.”