Common Good Iowa

Making a difference with wind, solar

Posted on July 21, 2022 at 12:05 PM by David Osterberg

It was 20 years ago this month that four friends joined me on a bike tour of three countries in Europe to show Iowans the possibilities for renewable energy that could transform our energy economy and combat the very real threat of climate change.

Our focus then was to see the use of wind power in Germany and Denmark and Holland — and send information back to Iowans during our 34-day trip. We rode bikes hundreds of miles and pulled a large solar panel on a bike trailer. The gimmick of the solar panel got us interviews with lots of policy makers and with engineers and business types who were part of the renewable revolution. The media helped us spread the word.

We kept up this effort with more Green Bike Tours, including tours in the Midwest in 2004 and 2006 and others in Europe in 2008 and 2010.

We could not have imagined then how far Iowa would come in 20 years. Back then, we were calling for Iowa utilities to have at least 10 percent of their generating capacity from renewable energy. In recent days, MidAmerican Energy announced that its renewable energy mix is nearly 89 percent of its energy distributed in Iowa.

In fact, with its additional plans for an expansion of wind generation (2,000 MW) and solar energy (50 MW), MidAmerican's renewable energy supplies would equal Iowa customers’ annual usage by 2025.

Again, this is way beyond what we expected 20 years ago. But it is what we hoped would happen — greater investments by customers and utilities, public pressure and better public policy to encourage the development of renewables and the decline of fossil fuel use.

Climate change is getting worse every year and renewable energy production in Iowa is more than keeping up in the fight. President Biden wants more utilities like MidAmerican to convert to renewables and cut back on fossil fuel. And the economy will produce jobs in the process.

Iowa has done it. Others can, too. And I like to think the awareness we raised 20 years ago and since contributed to these improvements.

David Osterberg is a senior researcher at Common Good Iowa.

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