(Photo by Jeff Gitchel via Creative Commons)
An Iowa utility with plans to build a new natural gas-fired power plant is also cutting back on efficiency efforts, in what advocates say is a case of misplaced priorities.
Several organizations have critiqued a five-year energy efficiency plan filed in November by Interstate Power and Light (IPL), one of three investor-owned utilities serving the state. Every five years, Iowa’s large power companies are required to submit a plan to state regulators for reducing energy consumption over the next five years.
Interstate’s latest proposal, to take effect on Jan. 1, left some of the state’s efficiency advocates underwhelmed.
“They’re leaving a lot of energy efficiency that is achievable on the table,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a Des Moines-based staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The center, together with the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa Policy Project, last month filed a response to Interstate’s plan.
(Photo by archerwl via Creative Commons)
After 18 months of courtship and competition, Iowa officials announced Tuesday that Facebook has selected a Des Moines suburb as the site for its next data center.
The social media giant plans to break ground this summer in Altoona, Iowa, on a $300 million data center that could be the first of three facilities there.
Much of the news coverage has focused on the $18 million in tax credits awarded by the state, but Facebook had another reason to “like” Iowa: wind power.
Solar panels installed by Eagle Point Solar atop Dubuque’s municipal building. (Photo courtesy Eagle Point Solar)
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a response from Alliant Energy.
An Iowa district court ruling March 29 could be a “landmark decision” for solar development in the state, in Eagle Point Solar President Barry Shear’s words, by allowing the company to sell electricity directly to the Dubuque city government to power the municipal building where the panels are located.
Previously, the Iowa Utility Board had prohibited Eagle Point from selling electricity to Dubuque from the rooftop installation. The utility board ruling came after the local utility, Alliant Energy, had complained to the Dubuque City Council in summer 2011 that the then-in-the-works project violated their exclusive right to provide electricity to the city.
The utility argued that Eagle Point would be acting as a utility and encroaching on Alliant’s monopoly territory by selling electricity from its panels to power the building. The Utility Board agreed with Alliant in a March 2012 ruling.
But the Polk County District Court found that Eagle Point would not be acting as a utility, so the company can sign what is known as a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) with Dubuque to sell the city electricity from the panels, which are owned by an investor and managed by Eagle Point.
Experts consider the ruling crucial to the development of solar installations on the rooftops or grounds of city buildings, universities, churches, hospitals and other non-profit institutions in Iowa.
Lighter power lines would require fewer transmission towers, which can make up half the cost of a new line. (Photo by Michael Kappel via Creative Commons)
Alan Russell calls today’s transmission lines — clusters of steel wires surrounded by strands of aluminum — “a bundle of compromises.”
The steel is heavy and doesn’t conduct electricity well, but it’s needed to support the aluminum, which would otherwise sag too much under the weight of its load.
It’s bulky and unwieldy, but utilities have used the combination since the 1960s, building strong, tightly spaced towers to hold it up off the ground.
Russell, a materials scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory in Iowa, is part of a team that’s working on a next generation power cable — one that’s lighter, stronger, and more conductive.
The lab is about to begin several months of testing to confirm the strength of their new material, a metal composite made from aluminum and calcium. If they can prove the material has the properties they think it does, the discovery could lead to lower costs for transmission projects.
Craig Lewis is the executive director of the Clean Coalition, which advocates for clean local energy.
By Craig Lewis
Iowa is no stranger to wind power. In 2012, the state generated nearly a quarter of its total electricity from wind, and Iowa ranks third nationally — trailing only Texas and California — in installed wind capacity.
With such significant renewable power generation already online in Iowa, forward-thinking state legislators have turned their attention to maximizing the local economic benefits of Iowa’s enviable renewable resources. The result is SF 372 — a bill, currently navigating the Iowa Senate, to transform the state’s energy economy by empowering Iowans to build and own community-scale wind projects.
Virtually all of Iowa’s existing renewable power capacity comes from massive and remote wind projects that are owned by multinational utility corporations. While some farmers have been able to earn a bit of revenue by allowing the development of big wind farms on their land, most have had no pathway to participate in Iowa’s burgeoning renewable energy economy.
SF 372 is the first step to change this unfortunate situation by shifting wind energy production – and the associated economic benefits – to Iowa’s farmers through the adoption of a statewide Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) Program.
(Photo by Sarah Barrow via Creative Commons)
A groundbreaking renewable energy study is on the agenda this week at an annual gathering of the wind power industry in Iowa.
The analysis, which was published in the Journal of Power Sources, challenges the common notion that wind and solar power need to be paired with fossil fuel or nuclear generators, so utilities can meet electricity demand when it’s not windy or sunny.
The paper instead proposes building out a “seemingly excessive” amount of wind and solar generation capacity — two to three times the grid’s actual peak load. By spreading that generation across a wide enough geographic area, Rust Belt utilities could get virtually all of their electricity from renewables in 2030, at a cost comparable to today’s prices, it says.
The research is of particular interest to Midwest wind developers, who will hear from one of the study’s co-authors today at the Iowa Wind Energy Association conference in Des Moines. Cory Budischak, who teaches energy management at Delaware Technical Community College, is scheduled to speak at 9:35 a.m., immediately following Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
A wind turbine is installed at a Michigan farm in 2011. (Photo by Corey Seeman via Creative Commons)
An Iowa Senate subcommittee surprised utility groups and clean energy supporters alike earlier this month when it unanimously passed a bill that would establish a statewide feed-in tariff for small wind projects.
It’s the first time the perennial proposal has ever been cleared for a full Senate vote.
The bill, SF 372, would require all electric utilities in the state to purchase power from customers’ wind turbines at a guaranteed price for up to ten years. The program would apply only to wind projects built on agricultural land with a nameplate capacity of 20 megawatts or less. And power purchases would be capped at 50 percent of the utility’s sales growth in the previous year.
The state’s public utilities board would be tasked with setting a fair price per kilowatt hour and drawing up a standard contract for use with all qualifying projects.
(Photo by Karen Kleis via Creative Commons)
As the country rebuilds its aging transmission system, spending more than $14 billion this year alone, there’s a looming, unanswered question: who gets the bill?
Federal regulators are attempting to equitably distribute the costs, but a recent complaint by an Iowa utility shows that the issue is far from settled.
Interstate Power & Light Co. says its customers are unfairly shouldering the costs of connecting wind farms to the electricity grid. The utility, which is a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, wants federal regulators to spread the cost of local interconnection projects, which mostly benefit other utilities that import wind power, it says.
The company’s complaint against transmission company ITC Midwest is currently pending before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
“The fundamental question here is: who pays?” said Jim Hoecker, general counsel for WIRES, a nonprofit that represents the electric transmission industry.
(Photo by Collin Votrobeck via Creative Commons)
With several ambitious transmission projects being proposed or planned in Iowa, the state’s utility board is taking stock of the major projects in a workshop today.
Wind development has slowed in Iowa lately, in part due to transmission bottlenecks. In response, utilities and developers are working on hundreds of miles of new high-voltage power lines aimed at moving wind power to customers in and outside the state.
The Iowa Utilities Board has been collecting information on the projects more than 50 miles long and 345 kV. They include the following:
Geothermal bore drilling at a rural home. (Photo by jeffreyw via Creative Commons)
Iowa is a national leader in wind energy, with the second most installed capacity after Texas.
A bill signed into law this spring aims to help diversify the state’s renewable sources beyond wind, offering among other things a first-ever state tax credit for geothermal projects.
Geothermal installers say the incentive is already helping to sway motivated customers who have done their homework but hesitated to make the investment until now.
“Everyone’s been darn busy putting geothermal in,” said Ron Marr, executive director of the Iowa Geothermal Association, which represents about 150 installers.
Geothermal systems tap into the near-constant temperatures found deep enough below the surface all year round, usually between 50 and 60 degree Fahrenheit. In the winter, water or fluid is pumped through a system of underground pipes, carrying heat up to the surface. In the summer, the system reverses, depositing heat below ground.