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Transition to clean energy grid critical, requires commitment, advocates say
Iowa generates more than half its electricity with wind, but clean energy advocates say the state and nation can do even more
DES MOINES — The continued integration of wind and solar into energy grids is a “no-brainer,” but will only come with a commitment to system-changing infrastructure, clean energy advocates said Wednesday.
John Norris, who has served in energy regulation roles in Iowa and federal government, and Michael Goggin, vice president of Grid Strategies, a consulting firm that works to integrate clean energy into electric grids, said Wednesday during a webinar that while great gains have been made, there is even more room for energy grids to employ wind and solar energy.
More than half Iowa’s electric generation — 57 percent — is supplied by wind energy, according to the Iowa Utilities Board, the state’s energy regulating body of which Norris is a former chair. The next-highest sources are coal, at 24 percent, and natural gas, at 12 percent. Other renewable sources — including solar and hydro — combine to make up just more than 2 percent.
“We still need to continue to grow, to have our electric system evolve and transition to meet the needs of the future,” said Norris, who ran for governor in 2017. “So our mentality is still evolving, and it’s still being resisted by vested interests. That resistance to this change still remains strong over two and a half decades later.”
The webinar was hosted by multiple clean energy advocacy organizations: the Clean Energy Districts of Iowa, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Interfaith Power and Light and Sierra Club Beyond Coal.
Norris said a more rapid transition to a clean energy grid is being stunted by infrastructure that is not equipped to handle it.
“Why is there so much resistance to this? We’re talking about shifting from a generation system dependent upon fossil fuels and just fuel in general to a system that there is no fuel cost,” Norris said. “What’s holding back this lower-cost energy is a grid system that today cannot accommodate near the potential we have.”
Goggin said because clean energy sources like wind and solar are free, the cost “is a no-brainer.” The hurdle, he said, is integrating wind and solar into an electric grid that would be reliable.
“One of the most challenging aspects is basically ensuring resource adequacy, having enough power plants and enough transmission to get that power to customers during peak demand periods.”
In a guest column written last year for The Gazette, Dusky Terry, president of ITC Midwest, said the energy utility company has been working to meet consume demand for more renewable energy resources.
“Governments, corporations and other organizations pursuing sustainability goals are demanding clean energy. Traditional baseload generating plants are being retired at an unprecedented pace,” Terry wrote. “To meet that demand, utilities and renewable energy developers are adding wind and solar farms in Iowa and across the Upper Midwest. … The development of robust transmission infrastructure must keep pace to connect these renewables to the power grid.”
Goggin noted a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory study that found there are multiple pathways to 100 percent clean electricity nationally by 2035.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of investments and changes that need to happen over the next 13 years, which is pretty ambitious. But we can do it,” Goggin said.
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