Iowa made a lot of progress in 2015, and has even bigger plans for the year ahead.
Governor Branstad reported out on the Condition of the State of Iowa on January 12th. He spoke of clean energy's promise and charted a path towards a greener future that will continue to grow Iowa's economy. Reminding Iowans of his foresightedness in 1983 when implementing the first renewable electric standard in the nation (since then, many states have followed his example), he pointed out the stark contrast between the coal and foreign oil dependency of the past and the renewable energy that increasingly powers the state today.
Following Governor Branstad's example, we can also take stock of 2015 and look at some next steps for the state to tackle over the months to come.
- Governor Branstad signed Senate File 2340, which tripled and otherwise improved the state's solar tax incentives. According to the Iowa Department of Revenue, tax credits to Iowa homes and businesses equaled $5,060,364 in 2015.
To Do: Solar will continue to grow in 2016 because of more competitive markets, continued pro-solar policies, and federal incentives and regulations that limit pollution from dirty energy sources. The state should further encourage the solar market's development by protecting and improving existing clean energy incentives and by removing efficiencies, like streamlining the application process for solar projects across cities and counties.
- Attorney General Tom Miller joined 18 other states in supporting the Clean Power Plan, the nation's first limits on carbon pollution from power plants. He indicated that the Plan is "necessary and practical and doable," and a necessary component of any plan to limit the climate change that threatens Iowa's people and agriculture.
Update: The U.S Court of Appeals in Washington has rejected an appeal by the Clean Power Plan's opponents to halt the rules; you can read more about that decision at David Doniger's blog, here.
- In 2015, Iowa established a robust timeline for developing a state plan to meet the targets under the Clean Power Plan, and has implemented one of the most fully developed stakeholder processes in the nation. With meetings in September and November to discuss the finalized rule, Iowa's Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Utilities Board, and Iowa Economic Development Authority made sure that affected utilities, environmental groups, and other interested stakeholders learned about the final Clean Power Plan and the state's plans for developing a plan to meet the goals. These meetings have continued with regular convenings in 2016.
Next steps: The Iowa agencies should work to diversify the stakeholders present, including more low-income advocates, communities of color, faith communities, sportsmen and -women, and other members of the general public. And, because the Clean Power Plan are not far beyond that which is planned, Iowa should accelerate its timeline to better take advantage of built-in incentives for low-income energy efficiency and renewable energy.
- Also in 2015, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Director Debi Durham of the Iowa Economic Development Authority announced the development of a State Energy Plan, to be completed before the end of 2016. The plan will set ambitious long-term goals and make recommendations to "encourage energy, economic, and environmental benefits."
To Do: Hopefully, the Iowa Energy Plan will reflect all of Iowa's homegrown potential, especially potential for smarter energy use. As other states adopt aggressive and innovative energy efficiency policies, Iowa has slipped in the energy efficiency rankings to the 12th position. While this isn't a position to be ashamed of, neither does it make Iowa a leader. Energy efficiency is promising because of the jobs it creates for essential and hard-hit areas like construction and carpentry, but also because it can make our homes safer and more comfortable, and can make monthly energy expenses more manageable. Iowa has a strong history of investing in more efficient energy use, but creative programs and policies are needed to push the state farther.
The progress made in Paris will chart a more hopeful future for us and for future generations. Iowa is already leading the way, raising the bar for not only the region but the world. Denmark made the news earlier this month for setting a new global record for wind power generation in 2015, reaching 42% generation from wind. The country hopes to show that ambitious environmental goals and reliability and affordability are not mutually exclusive. Iowa provides the Midwest and the United States with our own example here in the heartland, with thousands of wind turbines that could provide 40% of the state's energy needs by 2020. Iowa shows that the agreement reached in Paris is achievable. In Governor Branstad's own words, instead of being content with self-congratulation Iowa "must keep looking to the future, working to understand our needs and pushing for more renewable, reliable, and low-cost clean energy to meet our needs."
(Photo Source: Iowa.gov)