Linn County solar energy group buy far exceeds expectations


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Solar installations will be provided by Moxie Solar, founded in 2008 and based in North Liberty, Iowa. (growsolar.org)
Jenna Ladd | October 19, 2017

Homeowners in Linn County were encouraged to combine their buying power to significantly reduce the cost of installing solar panels this summer through the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative.

Organized by the City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County, The Nature Conservancy, Indian Creek Nature Center, Iowa 350 and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), participants were offered a significant per Watt (W) discount each time the volume of buyers surpassed program tiers. The base price for participants was $2.45/W. All participants received a $0.05/W discount each time the group buy reached one of four milestones: 50 kilowatts (kW), 150 kW, 250 kW, and 350 kW.

The program offered a total of 23 educational sessions, or Solar Power Hours, for interested parties to learn more about the evolving solar industry and this initiative.

Amy Drahos is a Senior Air Quality Scientist at Linn County Public Health. She said in a recent press release, “The community support for the Solarize program has been incredible. Nearly 500 people attended a Solar Power Hour or requested more information about the program, with 105 households deciding to install solar. This program was a success thanks to the enthusiastic response from Linn County citizens and the dedicated community partners who recognize the benefits of solar energy.”

In the end, 105 households signed up to install solar panel systems, and the initiative nearly double its highest goal of 350 kW, installing a total of 611 kW. The large group buy means that participants will receive a rebate of $200 per kilowatt installed, or an average of $1,164 per household.

Cedar Rapids Sustainability Coordinator, Eric Holthaus, commented on the city’s role in the program, “The City served as an educational partner in this program.  Solar technology ten years ago is not the same as solar today.  We enjoyed helping residents become informed on this energy option, and it looks like many were excited to take a step toward cleaner energy and lower utility bills.”

The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County initiative also provides a substantial environmental payoff. It is estimated that program participants will generate a combined total of nearly 700,000 kWh of clean solar energy annually. MREA reports that 927,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and 14 million gallons of water will be offset by this initiative during the first year alone.

The MREA has implemented this program in several other parts of the Midwest including Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Urbana-Champaign and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. However, “The Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program contributed the highest kW contracted to date,” according to MREA Executive Director, Nick Hylla. He added, “There is obviously a tremendous amount of interest in solar energy in eastern Iowa.”

The program wrapped up on September 30th. All solar installations will be completed by December 31, 2017.

EnvIowa Podcast: Ingrid Gronstal Anderson provides an inside look at the UI Power Plant


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Jenna Ladd | October 2, 2017

Episode 8 of EnvIowa features an interview with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, Environmental Compliance Specialist with the University of Iowa Power Plant. Ingrid explains the unique challenges faced by a university-based utility and recent strides the plant has made toward a renewable energy portfolio, which includes a growing miscanthus energy crop biomass program.

The facility is working closely with university administrators to achieve UI President Harreld’s goal of becoming coal-free by 2025.

The EnvIowa podcast is also available on iTunes and Soundcloud, a complete archive of EnvIowa episodes can be found here.

Climate change deniers considered for EPA science advisory board


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EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is charged with making the final decision on new Science Advisory Board members. (Gage Skidmore/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 19, 2017

Climate change skeptics are among those listed as possible candidates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

The board’s objective is “to provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator.” At present, 47 members sit on the board, but service terms will end for 15 members in September. The EPA has published a list of 132 possible candidates to fill these positions, about a dozen of whom have openly rejected widely accepted climate science. One candidate published a report in 2013 outlining the “monetary benefits of rising atmospheric CO2.”

Anyone can nominate anyone else as a candidate for the Science Advisory Board, and the list of nominees has not yet been thinned down by the agency. Staff members at the EPA are responsible fo eliminating a number of the nominees, while ensuring that the remaining candidates have expertise in a wide range of areas (i.e. hydrology, geology, statistics, biology, etc.). However, the final selection of new advisory board members is up to Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to anonymous EPA official.

In a 2016 piece for the National Review, Pruitt wrote that the debate on climate change was “far from settled,” despite more than 97 percent of active scientists agreeing that Earth’s climate is warming due to human activity.

The public is welcome to comment on the list of EPA Science Advisory Board nominees through September 28.

On The Radio – Humidity on the rise in Iowa


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Increased humidity poses health risks for Iowans according to the 2017 Iowa Climate Statement. (Teresa Shishim/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 18, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how humidity has increased significantly during all seasons in all parts of Iowa since 1971.

Transcript: Humidity in the state of Iowa has increased significantly since 1971, according to the 2017 Iowa Climate Statement released last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Absolute humidity, usually measured by dew point temperature, has increased significantly in all parts of Iowa during all seasons. The largest increase was found in Dubuque with a 23 percent increase in springtime humidity from 1971 to 2017.

The statement’s lead co-authors Gene Takle, director of Iowa State’s Climate Science Program and professor of geological & atmospheric sciences at ISU, and Betsy Stone, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, warned that increasing humidity makes conditions more favorable for increased rainfall, extreme rain events, mold and mosquitoes.

High humidity also presents health concerns for Iowans. More humid air along with rising temperatures can make conditions dangerous for manual laborers and individuals sensitive to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Titled, It’s Not Just the Heat, It’s the Humidity!, the statement ends with a call for Iowans to do more to mitigate the effects of climate change through improving energy efficiency, cutting emissions and advancing renewable energies.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Iowa DNR fails to obey some state regulations


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A recent audit found Iowa DNR has failed to follow a state law related to the establishment of wetlands near close agricultural drainage wells. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | September 8, 2017

A state audit released on Tuesday revealed that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has failed to follow state law related to identifying and safeguarding wetlands, monitoring public works projects on the local level and establishing a clean air advisory panel.

In its defense, Iowa DNR claims that state law pertaining to these issues are often duplicative or less stringent than federal requirements, according to a report from the Des Moines Register. Federal requirements for wetland protection specifically exceed regulation put forth by the state, Iowa DNR director Chuck Gipp told the Register. He said, “We recognize and understand the value of wetlands.” The Iowa law “is asking us to do something that would be even less stringent than the federal code.”

In response, Iowa Environmental Council’s water program coordinator Susan Heathcote noted that federal oversight related to water quality is questionable at present, considering that President Trump is expected to repeal and revise an Obama era water quality regulation soon.

More specifically, the audit found that the Iowa DNR has not established a program aimed at assisting in the development of wetlands around closed agricultural drainage areas, which would aid in the filtration of nutrient rich water flowing into municipal taps. The news that the state is failing to abide by existing water quality-related regulations comes after another legislative session during which state legislators failed to provide funding for more robust water quality measures Iowa voters approved more than seven years ago.

Wildfires bring smoke to Iowa


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Smoke from a wildfire this May billows over a local road. (flickr/Michael Lusk)
Jenna Ladd| September 5, 2017

A yellowish haze blanketed most of eastern Iowa this Labor Day weekend thanks to wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada.

Wildfires throughout Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are credited with much of this weekend’s smoke. Just this Sunday, evacuations were ordered for Glacier National Park in Montana and 140 campers were rescued from a smoldering forest on Sunday in Oregon.

As the climate changes, wet areas become wetter and dry areas become drier, allowing for longer wildfire seasons in many parts of the western U.S. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, compared to the 1980’s, wildfires now last nearly five times as long, occur almost four times as often and burn more than six times the land area on average.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Cousins said that this weekend’s haze cut visibility at Davenport Municipal Airport by two and a half miles.

A report out of Dubuque revealed that the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the area is moderate to unhealthy for individuals sensitive to poor area quality.

Asbestos assessment and removal funds still available for small communities


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Exposure to asbestos has been linked to higher incidences of cancer, weaker immune systems and other health effects. (Aaron Suggs/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 29, 2017

The Derelict Building Grant Program still has funds available for qualifying communities looking to inspect and properly remove asbestos from abandoned buildings, according to a recent announcement by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Derelict Building Grant Program funding is awarded annually to communities of 5,000 residents or less on a competitive basis. It provides financial support needed to asses for and remove asbestos, to deconstruct or renovate structures and to limit demolition materials that end up in landfills.

So far in 2017 the program has provided $350,000 in support to 18 communities across the state. The largest grant of $60,000 went to Osceola for the abatement and renovation of a commercial building that the city plans to use to spur economic development in the area.

“If a building collapses and the presence of asbestos is unknown, it can increase the economic burden on the community,” said the DNR’s Scott Flagg in a recent statement. He continued, “In addition, a building’s appearance may not reveal the actual condition of the structure. Building assessments can assist communities determine how best to address an abandoned building.”

In the same statement, the DNR announced that the program has an additional $50,000 to be disbursed this year. Applications will be accepted until funds are no longer available.

Applications for the next round of funding are due April 4, 2018.