Iowa

Press Release: Iowa Enviro Groups Alarmed by Vote to Change Clean Water Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 10, 2016

Contact:  Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org

Iowa Enviro Groups Alarmed by Vote to Change Clean Water Standards
Rushed rule-making process significantly weakens water quality protections

DES MOINES – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental groups warn today’s Iowa Environmental Protection Commission unanimous vote to adopt changes to – and weaken — the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards will likely lead to more pollution and undermine the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

In an unusual move, Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources recommended emergency implementation of the rule change. The amended guidelines are slated to go into effect on Friday, August 12.

Representatives from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) attended the Wednesday meeting to reiterate concerns that the proposed changes would represent a big step backward in the state’s clean water efforts. The groups previously spoke against the proposed changes at the Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting in July, the public hearing in June and the EPC meeting in May, and submitted written comments outlining concerns. The groups have suggested a stakeholder process to develop further guidance to address other stakeholder concerns without weakening existing clean water protections.

“DNR has made no effort to bring stakeholders together to address these changes, and as a result, the final rules have significant problems,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in ELPC’s Des Moines office.

“Iowa’s anti-degradation standards were developed over the course of nearly two years with input from environmental, business, industry and utility groups,” said IEC Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg. “As a result, the standards were strong, but reasonable, and balanced economic and environmental concerns. That balance has shifted.”

In March, a district court judge sided with the IEC and ELPC in a case that compels DNR to appropriately enforce Iowa’s anti-degradation standards – a pillar of the Clean Water Act designed to prevent unnecessary new pollution.

Per the ruling, DNR must ensure that projects seeking permits to add new pollution to a waterway have considered and appropriately accounted for the environmental benefits of less polluting alternatives, and that less polluting alternatives cannot be eliminated based on cost alone.

In response, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and Iowa League of Cities filed a petition for rulemaking, and DNR recommended changes based on the petition to the EPC in May. The amendment removes the provision requiring consideration of environmental benefits before eliminating less polluting alternatives, replacing the existing case-by-case approach with a one-size-fits-all approach based on cost alone. The change opens the door for Environmental Protection Agency intervention.

ELPC and IEC were instrumental in shaping Iowa’s strong but reasonable anti-degradation standards. Both groups have regularly filed public comments and met with DNR officials about the proper consideration of Iowa’s anti-degradation standards since 2013. DNR’s lack of action on these concerns led to the Council’s decision to have ELPC file a petition for judicial review on its behalf in the state District Court. That victory was the first legal case addressing the enforcement of Iowa’s anti-degradation standards since the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the standards in 2014.

The EPC’s vote in favor of the petition for rule change will head to the Administrative Rules Review Committee of the Iowa Legislature for approval. EPA will also need to approve these rule changes.

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Cedar Rapids Gazette Editorial: Agreement with ELPC’s Mandelbaum Assertion that Process for Rule Change to Weaken Water Quality Standards Moving too Quickly

Cedar Rapids Gazette

Put the brakes on changes to clean water rules in Iowa

Staff Editorial
Aug 9, 2016

Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission is poised to make an important decision this week with blinding speed and too little input from the public and stakeholders.

The commission is scheduled Wednesday to take up a major change in Iowa’s anti-degradation rules, which are designed to protect our waterways from new, unnecessary pollution from point sources such as factories and wastewater facilities.

Iowa’s robust standards call for a three-part analysis of construction proposals that would increase pollution to Iowa waterways, including a cost-benefit analysis of alternative, polution-reducing designs.

In March, a District Court judge ruled that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had failed to enforce that standard, a victory for environmental groups but a defeat for businesses and municipalities who contend the cost-benefit analysis is too difficult and expensive to calculate without clear methodology or process from the state.

The DNR contends those costs are tough to figure. Members of the Iowa Environmental Council who met with our editorial board last week say they are more than willing to sit down with DNR, cities and others to find a reasonable path forward. Instead, the EPC is moving to simply strike the cost-benefit analysis from the rules, limiting the cost of new antipollution measures at treatment plants to 115 percent of their base control costs. Left out of the equation is the cost of dirty water, or the value of reducing pollution.

The EPC is attempting to adopt the rule change on an “emergency” basis. So if it’s approved Wednesday, the new rule takes effect on Friday. The DNR did allow a public comment period in June and early July, but this still seems like an unwarranted summertime rush job.

“This is the fastest I’ve seen rule-making move,” Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center told us last week.

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Des Moines Register Op-Ed: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Calls for Balance in Iowa Water Safety Standards

Clean water requires balanced approach

By Clare Kernek and Josh Mandelbaum
August 5, 2016

For nearly 45 years, the Clean Water Act has provided critical protections for the nation’s waters. Anti-degradation standards are a pillar of the act and are meant to keep clean water clean by preventing unnecessary new or increased pollution.

Iowa’s anti-degradation standards were carefully designed to ensure economic and environmental considerations are balanced. The anti-degradation review process, which is only triggered when a facility applies for a permit to increase pollution, requires applicants to consider and appropriately account for the costs and environmental benefits of alternative treatments that reduce pollution. This analysis, known as economic efficiency, determines if the option is cost-effective, essentially evaluating the “bang for the buck.”

Unfortunately, the economic efficiency analysis in Iowa’s anti-degradation standards has not been properly implemented, prompting the Iowa Environmental Council to request a review by the courts.

This spring, an Iowa District Court judge sided with the council in a ruling that compels DNR to appropriately enforce Iowa’s anti-degradation standards. The ruling confirms that facilities seeking permits to increase water pollution must appropriately account for the environmental benefits of affordable alternatives that would decrease pollution.

Now, three groups — the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa League of Cities — have petitioned DNR to change Iowa’s anti-degradation standards. If adopted, the changes would allow facilities to arbitrarily eliminate affordable, less polluting options based on cost alone without any consideration of environmental benefits. This would significantly weaken existing water quality protections and undercut current clean water efforts.

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Progress IL: Enviros rally & testify on clean energy justice issues in Chicago

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects — including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower — in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects.

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People’s Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive.

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

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Des Moines Register: Rate Agreement Moves MidAmerican Closer to $3.6 Billion Wind Project

 

By Donnelle Eller

MidAmerican Energy, environmental groups and large tech companies reached a rate agreement over the Des Moines-based utility’s plan to invest $3.6 billion in wind energy.

The settlement, which goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration, lowers from 11.5 percent to 11 percent the return MidAmerican would receive from its investment in 2,000 megawatts of wind energy generation.

Among other changes in the settlement, MidAmerican Energy agreed to not sell to other states, utilities or businesses renewable energy credits from the large project when customers choose to claim green energy use.

That’s important to companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, all of which have large data centers in Iowa that are large energy users. Environmentalists have pushed big social media, software and internet search companies to reduce their reliance on power generated from fossil fuels.

“We are pleased that all of MidAmerican’s customers will benefit from this settlement,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft. “We look forward to continuing to work with MidAmerican to ensure that customers have a voice in decisions that affect Iowa’s energy future.”

The project, MidAmerican said, “will bring significant environmental and economic benefits to our customers and the state of Iowa without the need to ask for a rate increase.”

Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center, also involved in settlement discussions, applauded the agreement as well.

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News: Clean Energy Advocates Commend Alliant Energy Announcement in Iowa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 27, 2016
Contact:

David Jakubiak, ELPC

Katy Heggen, IEC

IEC, ELPC Comment Alliant Energy Plans for New Wind

 

Des Moines – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental policy groups have expressed strong support for a proposal announced by Alliant Energy today that would add up to 500 megawatts (MW) of new wind energy to Iowa’s energy mix.

“Alliant Energy’s new wind project will continue Iowa’s strong momentum on clean energy leadership. Across the state, utilities and developers are placing 10,000 MW of wind by 2020 – a major milestone – within reach,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council.

The recent extension of the federal wind energy production tax credit was a significant factor in Alliant Energy’s timing of this project. By moving forward before the end of 2016 to develop wind projects, Alliant Energy can capture the full value of this important tax incentive. Both the Council and ELPC supported long-term extensions of the federal PTC.

“We continue to reap the benefits of the extension of the federal PTC,” said Josh Mandelbaum, staff attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “This project further cements Iowa’s position as a national renewable energy leader.”

At the end of 2015, Iowa had 6,212 MW of installed wind accounting for 31.3 percent of Iowa’s electricity mix – more than any other state in the country according to the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa is expected to have up to 7,000 MW of wind installed before pending wind proposals are built. Those proposals include MidAmerican’s 2,000 MW Wind XI and Alliant Energy’s project announced today. If these projects are approved and constructed on time, Iowa will have over 9,000 MW of wind installed before 2020.

Alliant Energy’s wind project will provide significant economic and environmental benefits. Iowa wind energy already provides between 6,000 and 7,000 direct jobs and supports approximately 75 companies in the wind supply chain. Wind energy also provides over $17M annually in land lease payments to rural landowners, generates significant property tax revenue for counties, and attracts additional business to the state. Wind energy is also the lowest cost new source of electricity generation available in Iowa.

To learn more about this announcement, visit AlliantEnergy.com/whisperingwillow

Midwest Energy News: Biggest Wind Project in Iowa History Back on Track

By Karen Uhlenhuth, Midwest Energy News

The largest proposed wind energy project in Iowa’s history appears to be back on track this week after a tense period when it seemed the deal might fall apart over differences between a utility and large energy users.

On Tuesday, MidAmerican Energy — the utility pursuing the $3.6 billion Wind XI project — reached an accord with several major customers that objected to the plan, including tech giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook and a group of large industrial customers known as the Iowa Business Energy Coalition (IBEC).

MidAmerican President Bill Fehrman said in testimony filed with state regulators that, based on the companies’ objections, he found it “hard to conclude that the Data Centers and IBEC want MidAmerican to develop Wind XI.”

The large customers testified about a range of concerns with the proposal, including MidAmerican’s approach to modeling, the amount of power the utility projected its turbines would produce, the return on equity that MidAmerican was requesting and the treatment of environmental credits resulting from the production of renewable energy.

In the settlement, the customers and MidAmerican agreed to an 11 percent return on equity, slightly less than the 11.5 percent that MidAmerican initially had requested. The customers wanted a 9.5 percent return. And the two sides agreed to assign the environmental benefits of Wind XI to the various classes of customers, based on each class’ kilowatt-hour sales.

Like MidAmerican, the Iowa Environmental Council had expressed concerns that the changes proposed by the industrial customers and data centers could prove fatal to the project.

In a blog post late last month, the council’s energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, wrote: “While no party appears to have explicitly opposed Wind XI, the changes recommended by several interveners, including the data centers and IBEC, could cause Wind XI to be smaller or, at worst, not to be built at all.”

In written testimony, Fehrman said he was surprised that large customers challenged the project, given that they never expressed opinions in any of the 10 previous wind projects developed by MidAmerican.

The objections also appeared to fly in the face of the companies’ history of supporting renewable energy. All three companies have made significant investments in renewable power, including in Iowa, and have indicated they eventually intend to power all of their operations with renewable electricity.

In 2014, Google signed a deal with MidAmerican to purchase 407 megawatts of wind energy to power a new data center in Iowa. A year ago, Facebook announced that it was expanding with a third data center in Altoona, Iowa. The company cited several reasons for the decision, including access to wind energy.

In April, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad attended the announcement of the 2,000-MW Wind XI installation, which MidAmerican claims is the biggest economic development project in the state’s history.

Wind XI would increase MidAmerican’s substantial wind portfolio to the point that wind would provide energy equal to 85 percent of the electricity sold by the company in a year’s time.

A final decision from state regulators is expected in September. MidAmerican has said it would need to start construction on the project before Dec. 31 in order to receive the maximum amount of federal production tax credits. The credit will gradually decrease over several years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2017.

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Ecosystem Marketplace: ELPC’s Brad Klein Weighs in on Water Quality Trading Programs

Water Quality Trading: What Works? What Doesn’t? And Why Don’t We Know This Already?

By Kelli Barrett

July 22, 2016

Water utilities and NGOs around the world are using market-based mechanisms to clean regional water bodies and restore surrounding watersheds, but critics say the programs are unproven. Proponents counter: yes, they are, and the data exists to prove it!

For years now, North American cities like Denver and New York have been diverting water fees into forest conservation, while Kenyan flower-growers have been voluntarily paying upland farmers to develop terraces that slow runoff. Just this week, legislators in the Peruvian Capital of Lima authorized a program that will divert some of the city’s water fees into the restoration of ancient, pre-Incan canals high in the Andes to capture floodwater for the dry season. In addition to these “investments in watershed services” (IWS) programs, water authorities in the United States, New Zeeland, and Australia are experimenting with something called “water quality trading” (WQT), which aims to keep levels of fertilizer at scientifically acceptable levels by helping farmers implement conservation practices that reduce their agricultural runoff.

Each program is uniquely its own, but they all hinge on the premise that market-based mechanisms deliver better results and more flexibility by focusing on quantifiable, verifiable outcomes – either in terms of water quality or regularity of supply – rather than the rigid edicts of “command-and-control” regulation.

Last autumn, an organization called Food and Water Watch (FWW) challenged that assumption, at least as far as WQT is concerned, in a paper that re-labeled WQT as “pollution trading” and charged that it undermines the Clean Water Act (CWA) and puts US waterways at great risk – a contention that was promptly dismissed by WQT proponents like Brent Fewell and Bobby Cochran.

Fewell, a one-time senior official at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and founder of the law firm Earth and Water Group, penned a piece entitled “Food & Water Lies – FWW Stands in the Way of Environmental Protection” which derided the organization as being ideologically anti-market and anti-public private partnership, while Cochran, the Executive Director of the Oregon-based nonprofit Willamette Partnership, was a bit more forgiving.

“FWW did not do an independent assessment on water quality trading,” said Cochran, whose organization is active in the WQT space and often acts as an advocate for trading.

However, Cochran adds that proponents of trading aren’t producing objective content either.

And while the pro and con camps continue to argue, reams of hard data from dozens of pilot projects are sitting around just begging for a disinterested, scientific evaluation. Cochran, among other practitioners, suggest a third-party, independent review of this data to settle the debate over whether WQT is effective.

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News: ELPC, Iowa Environmental Council Commend Agreement on Iowa Wind

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2016

Contact:
David Jakubiak, ELPC
Katy Heggen, IEC

Environmental Groups Commend Agreement on MidAmerican Wind Project
Wind XI Extends Iowa’s National Clean Energy Lead

Des Moines – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental policy groups continued to express their support for MidAmerican’s Wind XI project after several parties filed a settlement Tuesday with the Iowa Utilities Board to move the project forward. If approved and built, Wind XI would add 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy to Iowa’s energy mix, making it the largest wind project in Iowa:

“This settlement continues the Iowa tradition of adding significant renewable energy in a manner that provides benefits to Iowa customers, the Iowa economy and the environment,” said Joshua Mandelbaum, staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“We are pleased to see MidAmerican come to agreement with the Office of Consumer Advocate, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and the Iowa Business Energy Coalition,” added Nathaniel Baer, energy program director of the Iowa Environmental Council. “We applaud this showing of clean energy leadership, and look forward to continuing to work with the involved parties to advance affordable, reliable renewable energy in Iowa.”

The settlement now goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration.

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Discusses Open Door to More Net Metering

Net metering will be available to more electricity customers in Iowa as a result of a decision made on Tuesday by state regulators.

As part of a long-running discussion about distributed generation, the Iowa Utilities Board ruled that the state’s two major utilities – MidAmerican and Alliant Energy – must increase their net metering cap from 500 kilowatts to 1 megawatt. Also, the new tariffs will have to make net metering available to all classes of customers but will change some rules for compensation.

“They’ve left the structure of net metering in place, and focused on how to expand that in a very narrow way that is on the whole positive,” said Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney in Des Moines with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “They didn’t invite any of the changes you’ve seen in the utility pilot project. They could have, but they kept the pilot projects separate, and to me, that is a positive.”

As part of the board’s distributed-generation docket, the board last October asked MidAmerican and Alliant to submit pilot projects to encourage the development of distributed generation in the state. For the most part, the utilities did the opposite: proposing rate changes that would penalize solar customers.

The new rules regarding net metering will be adopted on a temporary basis. At the end of three years, the board will assess the experiment and decide whether to make the changes permanent. Customers of the two utilities who currently have solar panels can choose to continue in their current net metering arrangement, or can opt to try the new net metering tariff. Those choosing the new tariff may not return to the former tariff.

Any customer installing solar panels after the new tariffs are adopted will be required to operate under the new rules. Under existing rules, net meterers can roll over excess credits indefinitely, to be applied against future bills. There is no option for trading credits for cash.

The new tariffs will institute a yearly true-up. Early in the year, excess credits will be removed from the books, compensated at the avoided-cost rate and the proceeds divided in two: half will go to a utility fund to aid low-income customers, and half will return to the customer.

Although he praised the board’s directive overall, Mandelbaum said the cashout piece “could potentially be losses and gains. I don’t think the cashout is going to make much difference on most projects, but there is some potential for it to impact some projects.”

The ruling will eliminate any incentive a solar customer might have felt to overproduce. The increased cap of 1 megawatt will apply only up to 100 percent of the solar customer’s load. And while the new rules will extend net metering to a couple of groups of customers who are currently excluded, the rules stipulate that each customer’s generation will only offset the energy charge and will not apply to demand or customer charges.

One class that now will gain access is customers who obtain solar power through third-party power-purchase agreements or lease arrangements. After a customer filed a complaint, Alliant changed its policy a year ago to allow third-party customers – generally public and non-profit entities – to net meter. While Alliant extended net metering to that group, MidAmerican did not, according to Mandelbaum. The ruling made yesterday requires that MidAmerican adopt the same standard.

The other class that now will be able to net meter is the large general service category, such as manufacturing plants and wastewater-treatment facilities. Barry Shear, a solar developer in Iowa, went to the utilities board because Alliant’s policy stymied one city’s attempt to install a solar array at its water treatment plant.

Although the new rules will allow large general service customers to net meter, the presence of a large demand fee as part of their bill may continue to interfere with the economics of net metering.

The board’s Tuesday ruling did something else: it seemed to bypass much of the pilot projects that Alliant and MidAmerican submitted in March. Although the board instructed the utilities to devise pilot projects that would experiment with ways to expand rooftop solar, clean-energy supporters in the state mostly viewed the pilots as designed to discourage people from generating their own power. Alliant proposed paying less to solar customers, and MidAmerican suggested imposing a demand charge on them. Both of them, however, also said they wanted to experiment with community solar.

The message in Tuesday’s ruling, as Mandelbaum sees it, was, “You can continue working on community solar projects,” he said, “The rate-design pilots – it essentially rejects those.”

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