Will Iowa continue adopting wind, solar without federal mandate?

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Iowa is a national leader in wind power, ranking in the top 3 nationally for capacity, power produced and number of turbines. Kelsey Kremer/The Register

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s plan to repeal a federal mandate that would force power companies to slash carbon emissions is unlikely to stop Iowa’s nation-leading adoption of wind energy, say environmental advocates, electric associations and government leaders.

That’s the consensus even though experts disagree over the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The plan requires U.S. power plants to shift to cleaner sources of energy — often from coal to natural gas or wind, solar and other renewable power — to cut carbon dioxide pollution 32 percent by 2030.

Pruitt, the EPA administrator, said Monday in Kentucky coal country that he would begin the process Tuesday to repeal the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s massive climate change strategy adopted in 2015.

Iowa utilities would be required to cut their carbon emissions 42 percent below 2005 levels, under the Clean Power Plan.

“It’s disappointing, because as a country, we have an opportunity to lead,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “And Iowa is the perfect example of the success we can have in reducing pollution, improving public health and growing our economy.”

Iowa had about 30,400 clean energy jobs last year, nearly 7 percent more than in 2015, an industry group estimates.

When launching the goals, Obama said carbon pollution is the largest contributor to climate change, which is hurting Americans’ health, contributing to extreme weather, including droughts and wildfires, and threatening businesses like farming.

Tom Miller, Iowa’s attorney general, said he and other states’ attorneys general plan to challenge Pruitt’s efforts to change the Clean Power Plan.

“The threat of climate change is real and significant,” Miller said Monday. “We’re already starting to feel it in a number of ways.”

Iowa is already a renewable energy leader.

It gets 36.6 percent of its energy from wind, leading the nation in the percentage last year. It ranks second nationally in the amount of wind energy generated, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Wind is second only to coal as a source of energy.

Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds, said Iowa’s large renewable energy portfolio has been a leading factor in landing economic development projects such as Apple and Facebook data centers.

“Iowa didn’t need permission from the federal government when it was the first state to establish a renewable portfolio standard in 1983, and we aren’t going to wait for the federal government to act when determining our actions today,” Smith said in a statement.

But without the Clean Power Plan, environmental leaders say Iowa’s wind-energy manufacturing industry — building wind blades, nacelles and towers — will lose out on business and jobs if other states are no longer required to adopt wind, solar and other clean energy technologies.

“Iowa sees significant economic benefits from wind and solar development that would have only increased with implementation of the Clean Power Plan,” said Nathaniel Baer, the Iowa Environmental Council’s energy program director.

“Manufacturing jobs would have likely increased … as Iowa and other states in the region shifted to renewable energy,” Baer said.

Costs are declining for both wind and solar energy, Baer said, adding that wind is the cheapest form of new energy capacity installed today — even without federal production tax credits.

Still, more than 160 groups have legally challenged the Clean Power Plan.

Chuck Soderberg, executive vice president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, said the Clean Power Plan could negatively impact the rural electric cooperatives he represents.

One major concern was whether the Obama plan would have forced utilities to prematurely retire coal plants, a source of “baseload” power when wind and solar energy isn’t available.

“We want to make sure that as an investment is made in whatever energy source it is — whether it’s renewable, natural gas, coal — that we can operate those plants for the life of the plants,” said Soderberg, whose group will closely watch any replacement plan.

Even though Iowa’s clean-energy goal is ambitious, Baer said the state is on pace to meet it.

MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy, Iowa’s investor-owned utilities, are both investing heavily in wind.

MidAmerican, in the midst of a $3.6 billion wind investment, will have poured $10 billion into the renewable energy since 2004.

The Des Moines utility, which has plans to get 100 percent of its energy from renewables, said it will wait until it sees EPA’s final proposal before commenting.

Alliant, the parent of Interstate Power & Light, is spending $1.8 billion on wind energy and $13.6 million on two solar projects in northeast Iowa.

Alliant has no plans to veer from its renewable energy plans, a spokesman said Monday.

Soderberg said the association’s nearly four dozen members will continue their investment in solar and wind. “We’ll do what’s right for our customers,” he said.