Wind Power in Iowa: Lower Rates, Good Jobs

Iowa produces seven times as much wind power as U.S. average — and has lower electric rates.

Opponents of expanding renewable energy often claim that new, safe and clean electricity is all very nice but it just costs too much. Let’s look at the data. The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy keeps statistics on retail electric rates by state and for the nation as a whole. The graph below[i] compares the average retail rates (residential, commercial, industrial) in Iowa to the U.S. as a whole starting in 1998 when Iowa began to produce significant amounts of wind electricity. While there are many reasons why a particular state’s electric rates are high or low it is certainly fair to say that our rank as the leader in per-capita wind electricity production (24.5 percent of all electricity in 2011)[ii] has not caused our rates to shoot up dramatically. Even though Iowa produces seven times as much wind power as the U.S. average, its rates continue to be about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour below the national average.

Basic RGB

Any discussion of prices for electricity must be qualified since the amount of wind electricity produced is not the same as the amount consumed in the state. States around Iowa have requirements that a percentage of electricity sold be from renewable energy. Iowa also has such a requirement and ours was the first in the nation, a fact the governor tends to emphasize, and the requirement was met long ago. Some wind electricity is certainly exported. Thus, while data on wind electricity consumption would be helpful, information is unavailable on what portion of electricity from each fuel source serves retail load and what is sold on the wholesale market. It should also be pointed out that selling at the wholesale level has some benefit to Iowa ratepayers.

 


[i] Energy Information Administration. October 1, 2012. Average Price by State Provider. http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/state/

[ii]  American Wind Energy Association. “American wind power now generates over 10 percent of electricity in nine states.” Accessed March 15, 2013.  http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pressreleases/wind-generation-2012.cfm

Posted by David Osterberg & Heather Gibney

Capitalizing on competition in Iowa

Competitions and “keeping up with the Joneses” can spur people to take advantage of the many energy-saving programs Iowa utilities already offer.

IPP last week released a report  that highlights how capitalizing on a better understanding of human psychology and behavior can drive energy efficiency and conservation in Iowa.

Will Hoyer
Will Hoyer

We initially got interested in the idea after hearing about the extraordinary results from a competition in Kansas last fall. We would love to see something similar happen in Iowa and are working to make that happen.

Apparently the idea of using competitions to spur energy efficiency and other beneficial behaviors has others excited as well. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu spoke on NPR last week about an initiative to get kids excited about energy efficiency. Chu said:

“In my wildest dreams, what I’d love it to be is sometime in not-too-distant future there’ll be kind of a — like a March Madness, there’ll be a lot of schools challenging other schools in their local areas for who’s going to make the most improvement in saving money and saving energy.”

Schools shouldn’t just be the only competitors. Entire towns can compete against one another. College campuses can compete. Churches. Businesses. Next-door neighbors. The truth is, we all want to “keep up with the Joneses” and if we know that the Joneses next door have a similar house and are paying less every month for their electricity then we’ll want to make the changes the Joneses made. Over time these will add up to significant savings in money and reductions in pollution and reduced need for new baseload electricity plants — whether they be coal, gas or nuclear.

Competitions and “keeping up with the Joneses” can spur people to take advantage of the many energy-saving programs Iowa utilities already offer. Many monetary incentives are out there already to replace old appliances, insulate your attic, install solar panels or upgrade your HVAC equipment. Haven’t taken advantage of those programs yet? Contact your utility to find out more. If you have reaped the benefits call your utility and ask for more!

Posted by Will Hoyer, Research Associate

Here comes the sun

No matter how much solar power is tapped, the sun will always come up tomorrow. Solar should top Iowa’s list of energy choices.

Teresa Galluzzo

Now is the time for Iowa to go solar. Developing solar power in Iowa will create thousands of jobs and bring millions into our economy. A new report from the Iowa Policy Project and three other organizations — the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center and Vote Solar Initiative — details the economic benefits.

Increasing our solar-powered energy and reaping these benefits is something Iowa can easily do with good state policy and private investment. Here are some reasons why:

— We have enough sun. Iowa has more solar resources than Germany, the world’s solar energy leader. [1]

— Iowa has experience leading with clean energy from developing wind power. Iowa went from under 250 MW of wind in 2000 to more than 3,500 MW in 2010. We now rank second nationally in installed capacity. [2]

— Twenty-two Iowa businesses manufacture, install or maintain solar systems. More Iowans are being trained in solar technology at community colleges and workshops across the state.

— Iowans have proved solar works. For example, Allsteel, a national workplace furniture company headquartered in Muscatine, installed panels last year to power production lines at its seating manufacturing plant. [3]

— Our competition has begun to encourage the industry. While California and New Jersey are the national leaders, our neighbors, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, have recently set solar energy goals. [4]

— Prices for solar keep dropping. Panels cost 30 times less than they did in the 1970s. [5]

— Installing solar would have only a modest impact on electric rates. If Iowa were to install 300 MW over the next five years, and all was brought on by investor-owned utilities, the average customer’s rates would only increase by $1.70 a month.

— Solar is safe. It doesn’t need to be exported from other countries and there are no harmful byproducts.

— Sunshine is an inexhaustible resource. The more we use oil or coal, the higher the price will go. No matter how much solar power is tapped, the sun will always come up tomorrow.

For these reasons and more, solar should top Iowa’s list of energy choices.

Posted by Teresa Galluzzo, Research Associate

Iowa students find sustainable lessons in India

One example of how sustainability helps rural villagers in India is a solar lighting program for places not reached by the electric grid.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) in Chitrakoot, India, works with India’s poor. Ten University of Iowa students and Associate Professor David Osterberg have come to this holy city to study this organization’s approach to sustainability.

We had hoped to send a blog each day describing the school for tribal girls, the entrepreneurial center, villagers growing plants used in Ayurvedic medicine, the agricultural experiment stations and others of the 19 programs that exist in villages located within 50 kilometers of this center. However, the internet connection has been down most of the time. Thankfully it was up Wednesday evening so the students could go online for materials for the presentations they will make to our hosts today.

One example of how DRI makes the lives of villagers better is the solar lighting program for places not reached by the electric grid. Solar panels power 10-watt LED lamps, 60 of them in each of two villages we visited. Powering lamps solves the problem of storage of solar power generated during the day. The charge captured by a lamp on an average day will produce six hours of light at night.

A local village person, a woman in each of the places we visited, runs the solar charging station as a combination business and community activity. The setup — two 100-watt panels, 60 lamps and wiring — would be beyond the micro loan level so a hybrid arrangement, something akin to a U.S. public utility arrangement, was needed.

Charging the lamps and maintaining the system is a private-sector endeavor but because the system itself was given to the village, there is a limit to what can be charged. Villagers pay the charger woman about 4 cents for a nightly charge. She in turn maintains the system. She was trained in maintaining the system by the DRI’s entrepreneurial center so the systems are well-maintained.

By the way the system can also charge a couple dozen cell phones at a time. And it may be surprising to us but even poor villagers have cell phones.

This is one example of how sustainability works in rural India. We have seen many more during the seven days we have been here.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director

Renewable energy and Iowa schools

We’re asking for your help as we seek to better understand where and why schools are choosing to invest in renewables and whether they are seeing benefits.

Will Hoyer
Will Hoyer

Almost five years ago IPP put out a report on Iowa schools that were using (or were considering using) wind power to generate electricity. We’re thinking about doing a followup report that might look at not only wind, but solar energy as well.

Do you know of schools around you that have solar panels on their property? Are any thinking about installing solar panels? Are solar panels or wind turbines being used in science classes or other parts of the curriculum in schools in your town? Has the installation of renewable energy generation impacted the way people think of renewables? We’re asking for your help as we seek to better understand where and why schools are choosing to invest in renewables and whether they are seeing benefits.

One example of a school that recently installed a small solar array on it is the Oak Ridge Middle School in Marion, Iowa.  A generous donation from the Linn County REC allowed the school to install 20 solar panels totaling 2.6 KW of capacity.  The solar array has been integrated into class work and is a valuable learning aide.  Real-time data about the system’s output is available online.

Iowa schools are expected to graduate students with a knowledge base that will serve them in the future. Clearly wind and solar power are a part of that future and students who grow up around renewable energy will likely be more comfortable with and accepting of the role renewable energy can and should play across Iowa.

Posted by Will Hoyer, Research Associate

Why Should Iowans Pay for Stockholders’ Interests?

If a nuclear feasibility study is needed for Iowa, it should be independently done.

Teresa Galluzzo
Teresa Galluzzo

MidAmerican Energy asked the Iowa Legislature for $15 million of ratepayer money, mine and yours, to explore whether it should build a nuclear plant in Iowa. While I firmly agree that Iowa ought to aggressively pursue options to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, I find it very unsettling that state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved this request.

MidAmerican Energy must put its shareholders’ interests first and thus the company’s feasibility study would necessarily prioritize how a nuclear plant would perform for stockholders before the impacts on rate-paying Iowans.

Even as a leader in wind-powered generation — 17 percent to 20 percent of our electricity production — and energy efficiency, both thanks, in part, to substantial efforts by MidAmerican Energy, Iowa must continue to evaluate its energy future, because we need to do more to address climate change. If it is necessary to study further whether new nuclear plants are a viable part of our generation mix, such research should be done by an independent group and include analysis of how nuclear would impact Iowans’ rates and safety.

Governor Culver should consider this before joining the General Assembly in a giveaway — from utility customers’ pockets — to MidAmerican Energy for a study that could perhaps be done by an independent group at less expense to Iowans.

Iowa reaches towering point on wind

Teresa Galluzzo
Teresa Galluzzo

Today the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released its annual rankings. These rankings showed Iowa moved up to second in the nation for installed wind capacity, after installing close to 1,600 MW in 2008. Iowa had a total installed 2,791 capacity of megawatts by year-end 2008, equal to 11 percent of the nation’s total wind capacity.

The Iowa Policy Project issued its own report this morning, to fill in some of the details about Iowa’s outstanding growth. The most impressive is that according to new estimates by the Iowa Utilities Board, wind fuels about 15 percent of the electricity generated in Iowa. This is a big increase from the 5 percent wind-powered generation estimated in 2006.

With this big jump, Iowa is now a world leader in the percent of electricity generated from wind power. To find comparable examples of wind production, we must look across the ocean to European countries. According to AWEA, Denmark leads the world, producing more than 20 percent of its electricity from wind energy.

Growth in wind production in Iowa, 1998-2008
Growth in wind production in Iowa, 1998-2008

Iowa’s outstanding growth in wind production calls into question the common argument that the costs of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change are too high to justify action.

Looking at Iowa’s electricity prices since 1998 — the year before Iowa’s wind boom began — our electricity prices have remained below the national average and in fact have not increased as quickly as the national average price in the last three years (2005 to 2007). Assuming a somewhat similar portion of the wind-generated electricity produced in Iowa was actually consumed in Iowa, wind’s great expansion did not cause prices to spike.

Even as Iowa is leading the way in producing electricity from wind power, significant room remains to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by increasing our use of renewable energy sources. On the upper boundaries, AWEA estimates that Iowa has the potential to generate 62,900 megawatts from wind power.

The new estimates of Iowa’s outstanding wind production, and its potential for new wind production, show that Iowans need not fear taking strong steps to address climate change. In fact, while still being thoughtful, Iowa should rapidly enact policies that continue to help our renewable energy production grow.

Posted by Teresa Galluzzo, Research Associate