In clean energy, Iowa has long set the pace for the Midwest, and from there the nation. It was true in 1983 when we created the first Renewable Portfolio Standard setting statewide clean energy goals.
It was true in 2019 when we became the first state to get 40% of our energy from wind.
And it was true last year when Senate File 583 became law. That measure, which passed both houses unanimously, preserved the ability to install solar for our homes, businesses and farms and be treated fairly for doing so. It was the result of collaborative discussion between Iowa environmental groups, utilities, pork producers and solar businesses — a diverse coalition that, together, set a model for the nation.
Impressive laurels, but we can’t rest on them. We need to work toward an even more energy independent and economically resilient future.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center released this week “Iowa Clean Energy Supply Chain Businesses: Good for Jobs, Good for Economic Growth, and Good for Our Environment,” a directory of Iowa’s wind and solar businesses and a policy road map.
The report lists 113 Iowa clean energy businesses, from small local solar installers to the firms that design, fund and build our massive wind farms. These businesses can be found in all four of Iowa’s U.S. congressional districts, in 56 of the 100 state House districts and in 38 of the 50 state Senate districts. The over 9,800 jobs that clean energy businesses provide the state are needed now more than ever.
Here are three policies from the report that can help us keep our clean energy leadership position, continuing to set an example for the nation.
Expand access to community solar projects: Community solar projects allow multiple electric customers to own or subscribe to a shared solar project and receive credit for the renewable energy it produces. These shared solar installations offer energy options for renters, homeowners with shaded roofs, and those with a variety of other financial and logistical barriers. Low- and moderate-income communities will benefit from lower energy bills if community solar projects are structured so everyone can access them.
Develop fair siting standards for utility scale wind/solar projects including native vegetation: Instead of using gravel or turf grass under and around solar arrays, prairie solar establishes ground cover with a diverse array of long-lasting native and perennial plants. This approach is also known as “pollinator-friendly solar” and makes a big difference as solar projects grow. Prairie solar also creates a permeable ground surface, allowing for more water infiltration and reducing nutrient load to our streams and rivers.
Update the state renewable portfolio standard to include battery storage with a distributed energy carve-out: Iowa’s modest renewable portfolio standard of 105 megawatts was set in 1983, met in 1999 and has been exceeded many times over in the decades since. Policymakers should modernize and update the state’s standard, not just to set a higher target, but one that takes into account the technological advances made since the 1990s.
With 49 states trailing in our wake, Iowa has a responsibility to always look ahead with smart policies and bold action. Our new report, available at elpc.org, shows how.
Steve Falck is a senior policy advocate in the Des Moines office of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He represented the 28th District in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1997 to 2002 and later served as legislative liaison for Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson.