Good climate response means good jobs
Posted on October 14, 2021 at 5:36 PM by David Osterberg
One day a year, climate scientists in Iowa come together to focus attention on an issue we need to confront every day: climate science and the impact of climate change on Iowans.
This year’s statement pinpoints the need to strengthen Iowa’s electric energy infrastructure to make it more reliable and resilient as we move toward increased electrification and away from dependence on fossil fuels.
What makes this issue special is that the necessary investments and commitment also will produce jobs — good jobs — at a time some Iowans are demanding better jobs than those available in the ongoing recovery from the pandemic. Both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation drafts before Congress include critical supports for strengthening and expanding our electrical infrastructure.
The 11th Annual Iowa Climate Statement, released Wednesday, Oct. 13, was endorsed by 223 individual researchers and educators from 34 Iowa colleges and universities, nearly all such institutions in the state. These scientists again call for reducing the emissions of gasses from fossil fuel combustion that heat the atmosphere. They also point out what can be done to mitigate the effects of the already changed climate we have.
As those of us who lost electric power for days because of the August 2020 derecho can attest, firming up the electric grid is critical. Jim McCalley, a professor of Power Systems Engineering at Iowa State University, notes Iowa utility companies have built a system to get electricity to us. “However,” he states, “the future is going to bring high winds, extreme temperature events, floods, and droughts, at a frequency and severity exceeding conditions for which much of this equipment was designed.”
McCalley in particular calls for “hardening” the system by strengthening transmission and distribution overhead lines and putting some lines underground where flooding is not a risk.
In addition, Iowa needs to diversify power production with “microgrids” for facilities like hospitals, fire stations and grocery stores. This can provide auxiliary power that can be cut off from the grid to keep essential services going, sometimes for the many days it takes to restore all electric services.
Solar power is a very appropriate way to power these islands of local electricity production. Solar panels also avoid the problem of generators that use the same fossil fuels that are causing the climate to warm in the first place.
The climate statement also addresses our need for additional transmission capacity that can support increased wind and solar generation, and notes that this can improve access to a more resilient, diversified electric infrastructure nationwide.
One common thread through these recommendations is that if implemented, they will produce a number of new jobs. These will be high paying, safety-minded jobs since employees in nearly all electric utilities and transmission contractors in the state are represented by unions. That means the workers will be local and will produce a big boost to the local economy of the state.
The pattern of extreme events, like the derecho, like heavy rainfall and flooding, will become more common in a changing Iowa climate. We need new infrastructure and overall investment in resilience in the face of this growing climate challenge.
David Osterberg and Nathan Shepherd examine energy and environmental policy for Common Good Iowa.