Iowa’s biggest solar power operation is under construction


Dubuque will soon be home to the largest solar power operation in Iowa. (zak zak/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 21, 2017

Construction for the biggest solar power operation in the state is underway.

Alliant Energy is building 15,600 solar panels on 21 acres near Dubuque to produce enough energy to power 727 Iowa homes every year. The $10 million project should be up and running by August.

The energy company is working with the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation to establish the operation. Another smaller solar site will be constructed closer to downtown Dubuque, and will have an educational component for visitors. The city of Dubuque has been a leader in sustainability in Iowa, and is a member of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities through the University of Iowa.

Alliant, which serves customers in Iowa and Wisconsin, already owns several renewable energy operations, including other solar projects, four wind farms, and a few hydroelectric dams.

“We see the cost of solar going down and the efficiency going up, and we anticipate more and more customers who demand renewable energy,” Alliant’s vice president of generation operations Terry Kouba said to the Associated Press. “Alliant will invest in more solar projects in the future, and we will look back at this Dubuque project and say, ‘This is where it began.'”

 

Iowa City and Johnson County stick by Paris Agreement


Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton reaffirmed the city’s commitment to climate action by signing two letters backing the Paris agreement. (flickr/Steve Shupe)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 13, 2017

Local governments continue to stand up against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton recently signed two letters stating the city’s intention to uphold the principles of the Paris Accord — one from the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and the other by the Climate Mayors, which was signed by 292 other mayors in the U.S. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution stating a similar objective at their meeting last week.

“We hope other counties will sign on as well,” Mike Carberry, vice chair of the supervisors, said to The Daily Iowan. “Since the president and the country aren’t going to show leadership, then local governments have to do it — cities, counties, maybe even states.”

Earlier this month, Trump announced his intent to ditch the agreement between 195 countries to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Both Iowa City and Johnson County have a reputation of being particularly progressive, especially in terms of environmental action. Johnson County has built several Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings, increased its dependence on solar power, and implemented recycling and waste reduction practices. Iowa City set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas output by 80 percent by 2050, established a committee aimed at climate action, and improved access to recycling and composting.

“In terms of the U.S. as a whole does, does it matter what Iowa City does?” Throgmorton said to The Daily Iowan. “No, I don’t think it matters, but if you combine all these cities in the United States … that adds up. It feels very powerful to me to know that what we’re doing is being done in affiliation with so many cities and mayors around the world … It gives me a sense of working for the common good together with millions of people.”

The mayors of Des Moines and Dubuque signed similar statements earlier this month.

On The Radio: 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll released


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Jake Slobe | June 5, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released results of the 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life survey.

Transcript: The 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life survey results were recently released, providing information about how Iowa farming practices are changing over time.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll, commonly called the “Farm poll,” was established in 1982 and is the longest running survey of its kind. Each year, the same 2,000 farmers are surveyed so that researchers can track changes in opinion over time. This year, 1,039 completed the survey, answering questions about their current conservation practices and who they rely on for trusted information when making farming decisions.

The poll revealed which conservation practices are most common in Iowa. More than forty percent of respondents reported using buffer strips and no-till farming, while less than twenty percent said they had converted cropland into perineal crops or utilized extended crop rotation during 2015.

The farm poll is managed by Iowa State University Extension Sociology. Information from each year’s survey is made available to local and state lawmakers, and is often used to inform policy decisions that affect rural Iowans.

To read more about the 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Trump expected to pull the United States from Paris Climate Agreement


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The closing ceremony of COP21 in Paris. (United Nations/flickr)
Jake Slobe | May 31, 2017

President Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, said three officials with knowledge of the decision, making good on a campaign pledge but severely weakening the landmark 2015 climate change accord that committed nearly every nation to take action to curb the emission of greenhouse gases.

A senior White House official cautioned that the specific language of the president’s expected announcement was still in flux. The official said the withdrawal might be accompanied by legal caveats that could shape the impact of Mr. Trump’s decision.

Trump is set to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Wednesday afternoon, who has advocated that the United States remain a part of the Paris accords and could possibly continue to lobby the president to change his mind.

Advisers pressing him to remain in the accord could still make their case. In the past, such appeals have worked. In April, Trump was set to announce a withdrawal from the Nafta free trade agreement, but at the last minute changed his mind after intense discussions with advisers and calls from the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

The United States is the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. An exit by the U.S. would not dissolve the 195-nation pact, which was legally ratified last year, but could set off events that would have profound effects on the planet. Other countries that reluctantly joined the agreement could now withdraw or soften their commitments to cutting planet-warming pollution.

On The Radio – Portland pledges to 100% renewable energy


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Jake Slobe| May 29, 2017

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In an announcement last month, the city announced their goal was to meet the community’s electricity needs with renewables by 2035 and to move all remaining energy sources to renewable ones by 2050.

Portland and the county join 25 other U.S. cities that have made the 100 percent pledge in recent years.

City officials will move to add five renewable projects at city facilities, such as solar projects at some police and fire headquarters.

Monday’s announcement was heavy on grand pronouncements but light on financial details. The city and county can lead the way in some respects, but much of the heavy lifting will depend on utilities and the market for electric vehicles accelerating.

To meet the electricity goals, the city and county will have to rely on utilities like Portland General Electric to more quickly turn away from coal and other fossil fuels.

To learn more about Portland’s plan, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org

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

New study finds that the pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990


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Icebergs are breaking off glaciers at Cape York, Greenland. (Wikimedia)
Jake Slobe | May 24, 2017

Scientists, in a new study, have found that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as quickly as they were throughout most of the 20th century.

This new finding  is one of the strongest indications yet that a much feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway.

Their paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t the first to find that the rate of rising seas is itself increasing — but it finds a bigger rate of increase than in past studies. The new paper concludes that before 1990, oceans were rising at about 1.1 millimeters per year, or just 0.43 inches per decade. From 1993 through 2012, though, it finds that they rose at 3.1 millimeters per year, or 1.22 inches per decade.

Studying the changing rate of sea level rise is complicated by the fact that scientists only have a precise satellite record of its rate going back to the early 1990s. Before that, the records rely on tide gauges spread around the world in various locations.

But sea level rise varies widely in different places, due to the rising and sinking of land, large-scale gravitational effects on the waters of the globe and other local factors. So scientists have struggled to piece together a longer record that merges together what we know from satellites with these older sources of information.

The new study takes a crack at this problem by trying to piece together a sea level record for the 20th century, before the beginning of the satellite record, by adjusting the results of local tide gauges based on an understanding of the factors affecting sea level rise in a given region, and then also weighting different regions differently in the final analysis. That’s how it came up with a relatively small rate of sea level rise from 1900 through 1990, followed by a much faster one afterward.

 

That 2015 study found that from 1901 to 1990, sea level rose at a rate of 1.2 millimeters per year, very close to the current study’s estimate. But other researchers have found figures more in the range of 1.6 to 1.9 millimeters.

 Overall, though, the disparities between different studies — many of which point to an acceleration, but which vary upon its size — suggests that scientists have converged on the big picture but are still debating the details.

Just how much control we are able to exert over the rate of sea level rise will critically depend on how rapidly global greenhouse gas emissions come down in coming years — making the entire outlook closely tied to whether the United States sticks with the rest of the world in honoring the Paris climate agreement.

 

On The Radio – A new campaign, Good Neighbor Iowa, looks to reduce lawn pesticide use in Iowa


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Jake Slobe | May 22, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses Good Neighbor Iowa, a statewide campaign attempting to reduce the use of lawn pesticides in Iowa.

Transcript: Good Neighbor Iowa, a statewide public education campaign to reduce children’s exposure to lawn pesticides was recently launched.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Good Neighbor Iowa campaign involves school districts, park managers, childcare centers, and community leaders who are demonstrating that it is possible and practical to manage large areas of turf without the use of pesticides including herbicides and insecticides.

Ultimately, their goal is to transform Iowa’s culture so that we appreciate diverse lawns as a way to protect children’s’ health, water quality, and biodiversity.

The entire initiative and the website were researched and developed by students at the University of Northern Iowa in the Interactive Digital Studies Practicum class taught by Professor Bettina Fabos.

The website contains a map that highlights schools, parks, childcare centers, and institutions in Iowa that have pledged to manage their lawns without the use of pesticides.

The website also contains tips on managing a healthy lawn and a blog discussing the effects of lawn pesticides.

For more information, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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