Iowa already on track

Iowa has no coal. It has the second-largest wind energy network in the USA, just behind Texas. MidAmerican Energy of Des Moines has among the largest renewable energy portfolios in the nation. So when the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it will seek a 30% reduction by 2030 in carbon emissions from power plants, the reaction from Iowa was typical:

It will cost us jobs and it will cost us more in utility payments, said Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman.

We are not aware of coal pollution directly creating jobs in Storm Lake, Schaller, Alta, Fonda or Pomeroy. We certainly are aware of scores of high-paying technical and management jobs being created through wind mills popping up all around us.

So many windmills have gone up that, by the end of next year, 40% of the electrical power in the MidAmerican service territory will come from wind generators.

Also, the Des Moines company that is owned by Berkshire Hathaway (caution: Warren Buffett is a friend of Obama) is converting seven coal-fired power plants to natural gas over the next couple years. Alliant Energy, not associated with Berkshire, also is using wind energy and is converting coal plants to natural gas.

The market was driving the conversion to gas and wind because they are cheaper power sources than coal.

So, no, it will not cost Iowans more to reduce carbon pollution.

And, no, it will cost no one his or her job.

If the naysayers and protectionists had their way, we’d still be lighting our homes with kerosene lanterns. Innovation creates profits and jobs. To the early innovator go the spoils.

Iowa was an early innovator in energy. We were among the first states to pass a renewable energy portfolio, in the 1980s. It required that power companies in Iowa must generate 105 megawatts of electricity from renewable sources. As of 2010, Iowa was generating 3,000 megawatts through wind. We could do more if new transmission lines could be built to ship electricity to urban markets like Chicago.

MidAmerican recently announced a $1.9 billion expansion in wind turbines.

Our investment in renewable energy is the reason that Facebook and Google picked Des Moines and Council Bluffs for huge data centers. Again, these are high-paying jobs that the rest of the nation craves. The only reason we got them was for renewable energy. South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska were not even in a position to compete.

Iowa is well on its way to meeting the ambitious EPA benchmark. Yet we have a lot of work to do.

Despite the huge wind turbine infrastructure, Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise from 2005 to 2010, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Pollution from coal-fired power plants grew by 12% during that period, while overall greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa rose 11%. Those growth rates should disappear with more wind installations and the conversion of several plants from coal to natural gas. If 20% of our electric generation came from wind, we could meet the EPA requirement easily. And, again, Iowa already will be generating 40% of its power from wind.

The American Wind Energy Association notes that the cost of wind power has dropped 43% over the past five years. The argument that containing coal pollution will cost us more is just plain wrong. In fact, MidAmerican has promised not to increase rates as it builds out the biggest wind turbine complex in North America right here in Iowa.

Wind energy has allowed Iowa to grow its economy while not increasing carbon pollution.

Further, it has been reported that Iowa has as much potential capacity for solar energy as Florida does. Utility officials say it will take some sort of government action — like this one — to spur a solar industry in the Midwest.

Iowa’s leading climate and agricultural scientists have warned that man-made climate change — caused by greenhouse gas emissions — will lead to more volatile weather and markets, weaken the livestock industry and wreak even more soil loss. They urge immediate action to reverse the course. The leading voices come from Iowa State University, the top ag school in America. They say that our primary Iowa industry — agriculture — will suffer tremendously by climate change, and that southern parts of the Corn Belt will be hurt even worse.

Iowans should expect a more thoughtful response from the governor. Branstad could use this opportunity to sell Iowa and vault it forward. He instead chooses to stick his head in the sand, an option we can ill afford, as the rest of the state moves past him.