Trump can’t halt wind, solar energy, environmentalists say

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

MidAmerican Energy Thursday held an event to mark the near-completion of it’s 119.6 megawatt wind farm in Madison County. The farm is located just east of the town of Macksburg. So far 48 of the 51 Siemens wind turbines are up and running.Bryon Houlgrave/The Register

Like a Tesla flying down the highway, Iowa and the nation’s clean energy industry has too much momentum for President-elect Donald Trump and his fossil-fuel allies to derail it, say renewable energy advocates.

Trump has bashed wind energy on the campaign trail, raising concerns about its cost, and called global warming, a driving force to switch to energy generation that creates fewer greenhouse gases, a hoax perpetuated by China.

That could spell trouble for Iowa, a wind energy leader that now gets more than one-third of its power from spinning blades.

But alternative energy advocates say the state is now a poster child for clean energy’s economic and environmental benefits, especially in rural areas, where Trump’s core supporters live.

“In Iowa, there’s a lot of success … and those successes have brought clear economic and environmental benefits across the state,” said Nathaniel Baer, Iowa Environmental Council’s energy program director.

The renewable fuel industry in Iowa, the largest producer of ethanol and biodiesel, faces fewer hurdles with the new administration, experts say.

Trump, along with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, supported a federal mandate that requires renewable fuels to be blended into the nation’s gasoline and diesel supplies.

Renewable fuels also creates good-paying jobs in rural Iowa, and provides much-needed demand for Iowa corn and soybeans, said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

“The rural vote put Trump over the top, and I don’t think he’ll forget that,” Shaw said.

Although “that doesn’t mean you’ll get 100 percent of what you want 100 percent of the time,” he said.

Despite a pullback in the amount of renewable fuels required nationally, the industry still supports 43,000 jobs in Iowa as spending ripples through the economy, the association says.

The view from atop a MidAmerican Energy wind turbine

Macksburg wind project turbine farm

And Iowa wind and solar jobs are closing in on about 7,600 — and growing, supporters say.

The state is in the midst of a wind-energy building frenzy, thanks in part to renewed federal tax incentives.

This year, MidAmerican Energy said it will invest $3.6 billion to add 2,000 megawatts of wind energy, and Alliant Energy will invest nearly $1 billion to add 500 megawatts.

the new project pushes MidAmerican’s wind energy investment over $10 billion since 2004, and wind will total about 85 percent of the Des Moines utility’s retail sales.

Last week, MidAmerican Energy said it remained committed to its plan to push toward getting all its energy from renewable energy sources.

“The trend has been and will continue to be toward clean energy. The election doesn’t change that,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Wind has benefited rural Iowa in several ways — from jobs to increased property tax values and taxes, and tens of millions of dollars in lease payments to farmers and landowners annually.

Wind manufactures also have located in some economically hard-hit Iowa towns: For example, TPI Composites makes blades and Trinity Structural Towers makes steel and concrete bases in Newton, once the corporate headquarters of appliance manufacturer Maytag, which employed hundreds of workers.

And Iowa farmers are some of the earliest solar adopters, said Susan Hendershot Guy, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, a faith-based group organized to fight climate change. “Farmers are adding solar to cut costs and become more sustainable,” Guy said.

While smaller, solar also is gaining ground in Iowa, with Central Iowa Power Cooperative building the state’s first utility-owned solar project and community solar gardens taking off with customers in Cedar Falls and other cities and towns.

Both renewable fuel and energy advocates say their industries have powerful political supporters.

Gov. Terry Branstad, the state’s chief renewable fuel and energy backer, has “developed a good relationship” with Trump, Shaw said.

And Iowa’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, the so-called father of wind production tax credits, could become the nation’s leading champions for renewable energy, Guy said.

Possibly more important, tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft, all of which have large, energy-hungry data center operations in the state, have made it clear they invested in Iowa operations, in part, because of low-cost, clean energy supplies.

With aggressive clean energy and climate goals, “those big businesses will continue to drive that market,” said Mandelbaum, the environmental lawyer.

“That won’t change,” he said. “In fact, it might become more acute.”

That gives Iowa an edge when competing for energy-intense businesses, Mandelbaum said.

Despite Trump’s concerns about expense,  Mandelbaum and Baer say renewable energy costs are falling. Mandelbaum said wind energy in Iowa is typically the cheapest source of new energy, even without tax credit subsidies.

In addition to wind tax credits, solar also qualifies for state and federal tax incentives.

“The economics will continue to get better,” making the industries less reliant on political shifts, he said.

Despite the confidence in clean energy demand, some environmentalists still expect a fight over climate change and clean air, water and land protections.

Sara Chieffo, vice president of the League of Conservation Voters’ government affair, said her group and others are prepared for Trump and congressional allies to seek to dismantle programs such as the Clean Power Plan.

The Obama initiative, now undergoing court challenges, would require states to cut carbon pollution from power plants an average of 30 percent from 2005 levels. Scientists say growing greenhouse gas emissions, resulting from human activities, contribute to climate change.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have criticized the carbon-cutting plan, saying it would drive energy costs higher with a “nearly immeasurable dip in global carbon dioxide levels.”

Chieffo said Trump is tapping advisers who are climate change skeptics, including Myron Ebell, appointment to lead EPA’s transition team.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric to tear up the Paris Accord, the global agreement to fight climate change, and eliminate EPA is at odds with his pledge to create jobs in rural America, Chieffo said.

If “you say you want to create jobs, and you say you want to invest in infrastructure, the clean energy sector is a huge growth opportunity,” Chieffo said.

“It’s an it’s an economic issue you’d expect a business man to get.”

Niela Seaman, director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the group “is very concerned about what the upcoming Trump administration may do to our environment,” especially for his support to allow “unfettered production of oil, coal and natural gas.”

“Drilling for dirty fossil fuels tears up the environment,” she said.