Reflections on the Iowa Renewable Energy Fair

June 26, 2013

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We recently participated in the Iowa Renewable Energy Fair. It was held at the very attractive art museum in downtown Davenport. A relatively small, but enthusiastic, audience saw some interesting displays.

The Root Cellar brought a solar-powered pontoon boat on which one participant reported having a four-hour solar-powered boat ride on the Mississippi.

Several displays featured solar hot water and PV systems. One display contained small and large solar racks. Electric cars, one of which was a conventional car converted to electricity, were also there. An electric car-charging unit was operating.

Conversations between booth exhibitors and visitors were varied in length and technical detail, depending on participant interest.

One attendee repeated frustration we have heard from others about our Energy Fair: we offer too many presentations, so we should either have fewer, or videotape more of them to post on our website.

The Iowa Environmental Council distributed an article by Nathaniel Baer highlighting current use of abundant clean energy sources and future prospects. Over the next decade, energy efficiency could meet 20 percent of the electric sales now supplied by Alliant and Mid America. The potential exceeds all the electricity now produced from the existing natural gas, hydro power and nuclear supplies.

Iowa is the leading state for wind energy with 5,000 megawatts installed and the potential for 10 times more, far exceeding current consumption.

Combined heat and power efficiently provides heat and electricity from one fuel source, which can be biomass, biogas or natural gas. It provides a large source of energy suitable for use in schools, hospitals and some manufacturing facilities.

Current excitement is focused on solar electricity, which studies indicate could provide more than 100 times current annual electrical use. Large-scale projects now serve Luther College and the University of Northern Iowa. In the last quarter, solar accounted for 48 percent of all new electrical capacity installed in the United States.

Mid America declared its intent to shut down a nuclear power plant and make a $1.9 billion investment in 1,500 megawatts of solar electricity because solar makes economical sense. In his keynote address, Howard Learner, of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, pointed out that climate change solutions work well for our economy and our environment. He called for the removal of utility barriers that slow progress to an efficient, clean energy future.

Barry Shear of Eagle Point Solar spoke about his experience installing a large PV system for the municipal utility of Des Moines through a third-party investor to capture the financial tax credits available to private investors, but not municipalities or nonprofits. Alliant claimed the third-party investor approach using a power purchase agreement was illegal, as the investor was invading its exclusive territory. The case will be heard by the Iowa Supreme Court, and has drawn interest from numerous other states.

Using federal tax credits and depreciation dramatically lowers the cost of the project by 50 to 60 percent, providing electricity to municipal customers at competitive rates similar to those provided by the utility.

As Learner pointed out, the switch to energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources results from continuous improvements in technology and supportive government policies.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the June 26-July 2, 2013, issue

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