David Osterberg: How big a role does policy play? You have the policy in a state, you have the resource itself, you have the technology, but the technology could be in California, or Texas, and Iowa. The reason Iowa’s where it is, is because we were first. Because that first RPS, that first demand that electric utilities, at least the investor owns, have to have some renewable energy whether they want it or not. That got the thing started. Once there was a market then you could talk about people who make turbine generators, people who make the tubular towers, people who make the blades. Well, look around to see where to locate and they find we know we have an active market here, we’ll be here. And that’s what happens. And once you get started it’s like Silicon Valley, once all those smart kids from Stanford didn’t want to go very far and hung around in that same area and one firm started, the next firm needed to be there too. And we, I think, are nearly there for wind if this governor would recognize, as the last one did, that this is one of the things that Iowa has going for it. You could get in that same position where people when they’re thinking about setting up a new firm to produce solar panels would have to say, well, pretty much we gotta go to Iowa.
John Collins: I was talking to a school teacher today and it’s integrated into all sorts of subjects, geography, chemistry, and social sciences and so on. This understanding that the relationship between the environment, the ecology, carbon emissions and climate change, you know, it gets a bit more developed as they get older. So, I think that’s very good. And raising building code standards I think will be a very good thing. We’ve got the lighting mandate coming in thanks to George Bush. 2014 incandescence will no longer be produced. I think the feed-in tariff is the top of the list, definitely. There’s absolutely no question about it, that’s the one I’d go for. I think these kinds of programs, more education of the public in general. I personally believe if you get more and more information out there reasonable people will come to fairly similar conclusions. And what’s happening in America is the information isn’t supplied so you get this polarization of views. Which is bizarre really because there’s such a radical difference in the national policies. Why is that you know? It’s just this lack of information and understanding coming up from the media.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Dream Green Series with co-hosts Stuart Tanner and James Moore on solar powered KRUU-FM. Iowans creating a greener tomorrow, today. A journey of discovery across the state, featuring innovators, cutting-edge projects, and communities leading the way to an energy independent and sustainable future. Visit our website at greeniowa.org.
James Moore: And once again on the road. I know we say it almost every week, and we do appreciate you joining us on this journey of discovery across the state with regard to energy efficiency, sustainability and all the good green stuff going on in the state of Iowa. This is James Moore with Stuart Tanner and we are on our way to Iowa City today to check in with David Osterberg. David Osterberg is the man responsible for the very first legislation passed in the country for sustainability back in 1983. It took many years for it to come into actual play. We’ll here all about that and much more today as we visit the Iowa Policy Project a non-profit organization that he has founded and also directs. He’s also a teacher with two master’s degrees at the University of Iowa with environmental angles there we’ll learn about. He was also a state legislator for twelve years before deciding not to continue doing that, and pursue more avenues for change than he felt possible as a state legislator, all that and more. We are looking forward to visiting with David Osterberg who is really, really outspoken proponent for a number of great energy practices and approaches, and I’m looking forward to speaking with David. What do you think? How you doing, Stuart?
Stuart Tanner: I’m doing fine, yes, on this wonderful sunny day. A very hot day, we’re in the middle of some extreme heat wave. Talking with David Osterberg is important for the series because the whole area of policy is vital. It’s a vital issue. The only reason why we have renewable energy in Iowa, wind turbines, and wind farms, and so on, is because of policies that were introduced. So, the policies story is one we want to cover and one we want to look at quite deeply. David Osterberg is the first person we’re interviewing on this, and it’s a very good place to start.
JM: Stay tuned here, to the Dream Green Series. This is James Moore with Stuart Tanner, from solar-powered KRUU-FM. Stay tuned.
JM: And this is James Moore with Stuart Tanner, welcome to the Dream Green Series. We are broadcasting on solar-powered KRUU-FM. And today we have made the sojourn up to Iowa City. We are here today to speak with a man who has a great grasp of policy issues with regard to the environment, and with respect to Iowa. We’re going to be speaking with David Osterberg. He’s the founder and executive director of the Iowa Policy Project. We’re actually sitting in a conference room right now at his offices, and we are really excited today to learn about the work that he’s doing here and the work that he’s done before. David Osterberg was twelve years in the legislature and he quit at a certain point, saying that, ‘I want to go out and affect change.’ We want to hear about both perspectives today. David, how you doing today?
David Osterberg: I’m doing well.
JM: Well, good to see you. Stuart, as is our tradition I’m going to throw the first question to you.
ST: Well, once upon a time in the state of Iowa there was no wind energy on the scale that there is today, except for actually in the past there were the little windmills on the farms. But obviously now we have wind turbines dotted throughout the landscape, we have actually wind turbine manufacturers, we have people looking at geothermal, and obviously there’s biomass and ethanol production. A number of things have changed on the landscape. And obviously we have a whole new generation of renewable energy sources, including solar of course. Now, policy has played a part in all that, and in some senses you could say that policy is king. I wonder if you could start us off by saying what part policy has played in bringing this about.
DO: I think it’s been a major importance. When you look back, as you said, before 1999 there was very little wind power developed in the state of Iowa. And finally in 1999 the two big utility companies decided to obey the law, the law that had been passed in 1983. And the first in the nation which required investor owned utilities to have certain amount of renewable energy on their system. We were able to pass a bill in 1983 that said that. It said that you have to have a certain amount of renewable. We didn’t say it was wind, we didn’t say it was solar; we just said it was renewable. They finally got around to obeying the law. Ours was the first in the nation. In fact, we didn’t know what to call it because it was the first in the nation. So, the first renewable portfolio standard was here. Terry Branstad our governor again takes credit for being the governor to sign the first one.
ST: Now we’ve moved on and we have obviously, quite a lot of a wind-power generation in the state.
DO: When you say 20%, I mean somebody out there listening may say well, yeah that’s 20% it’s not 100. Of course it’s not a hundred, but twenty percent is the equal to Denmark. We are equal as a state among the leaders of the world in getting our electricity generation coming from renewable sources.
ST: Some people would argue against the policies brought in place to encourage renewable energy. What kind of resistance, if any, was there at the time?
DO: Yeah, I don’t know why the governor signed it. I mean he shouldn’t have, because all the big utility companies told him don’t you do this, Terry. And he did it because we were in rather desperate straits in 1983. This was the farm crisis which for Iowa was probably as big as the economic crisis going on right now. And because everybody was looking for any kind of job anyplace, when I had this bill which said we’re going to get utilities to make sure they have to buy renewable energy and pay a fair price for it, that’s what ours actually did talk about the fair price for it. Some engineer types, some developer types started looking around and found that Iowa had something like fifty small dams could be converted to produce hydro-electricity and that is the reason we got it passed, because inside the legislature it was a rather difficult bill to pass. But you also needed to have a couple of guys saying you know we’re gonna make a whole bunch of money here we’re gonna employ a bunch of people. And it’s Terry Branstad’s economic development group that pushed him to sign that bill.
JM: Well, that’s amazing. I want to follow up on that. We have Terry Branstad in office now. It seems like the energy thrust over the previous governor’s term, we saw that the energy department Office of Energy Independence cabinet level position, now it’s not going to be cabinet level and it does look like there’s a new sort of interest and thrust for jobs, and green jobs. Does that mean there’s hope going forward, even though this has been lowered from a cabinet level position that there’ll still be some rubber on the road?
DO: I think there’s some just because of the jobs and that’s what here at the Iowa Policy Project in March we put out a paper on jobs and solar. It’s one of those things where you have to have jobs hooked together with what it is you want to do. You make the economic argument rather than the environmental argument. Turns out the thing you do does both. But that tends to be the argument. I’d rather have the Office of Energy Independence be a self-standing one. Terry Branstad does not seem to be nearly as committed to water quality, energy efficiency, the kinds of things he did when he was before. This is a different time. So, there may be a change in the same person, but because Terry Branstad in the past has done things we have some hope that he’ll do them again.
ST: Yes, because if you look at it and you think, well there may have been resistance at the time, we now look at the situation you see how much if you like green jobs being created, how much money is being recycled through the state because of wind energy, and obviously biomass has played a part in that, whereby you’re not spending those dollars going out of the state for importing energy from other places. Surely you would look at that over these years and would your assessment be that this proactive approach to creating renewable energy industries has been successful?
DO: Sure it has. You talked about how big a role does policy play? If you have the policy in a state, you have the resource itself, you have the technology, but the technology could be in California, or Texas, and Iowa. The reason Iowa’s where it is, is because we were first. Because that first RPS, that first demand that electric utilities, at least the investor owns, have to have some renewable energy whether they want it or not. That got the thing started. Once there was a market then you could talk about people who make turbine generators, people who make the tubular towers, people who make the blades. Well, look around to see where to locate and they find we know we have an active market here, we’ll be here. And that’s what happens. And once you get started it’s like Silicon Valley, once all those smart kids from Stanford didn’t want to go very far and hung around in that same area and one firm started, the next firm needed to be there too. And we, I think, are nearly there for wind if this governor would recognize, as the last one did, that this is one of the things that Iowa has going for it. You could get in that same position where people when they’re thinking about setting up a new firm to produce solar panels would have to say, well, pretty much we gotta go to Iowa. We’re not there yet, we are there on wind.
ST: So, what do you think it is, obviously as a fiscal string on a fragile level, but apart from that, what do you think it is on the political landscape that is creating, perhaps, a resistance to the alternative approach which is to put the foot on the gas even harder and to actually even support infrastructure and the renewable energy and even more in order to recycle? More money through the state and create more green jobs. So, what is it that is creating any sort of resistance or slowdown in that?
DO: I think it’s just blindness. I think you don’t wanna look at the long run. If you look at the long run what you do is you fund these universities, you make sure you know what’s happening seven to ten years from now. And you don’t worry about what the damn budget is this year. This switch to talk only about trying to see how small we can make government, how much we can free up entrepreneurs to go and do the right thing or the wrong thing, and we don’t really care which. To the extent that you do that you are going to really damage this state, this economy. Here’s an example, we put out our paper last year demonstrating that Iowa was pushing 20% of its total electricity coming from wind power. We had two graphs, one was showing the rise and the number of megawatts of capacity for wind in the state, and the second one was demonstrating how much it costs for a consumer to buy electricity in the state of Iowa as compared to the nation. And we are below the average. We are getting belower. Even when you bring on 20% of your capacity coming from wind you did not see, as some of these people will tell any us when they say you oughta be doing better, you oughta be doing cleaner. They give some nonsense about well, you’ll drive rates through the sky. In fact, we are low. We are low, and again, getting lower in relation to the rest of the nation. Therefore, there are a whole bunch of lies out there and the one good thing about what we’ve done in Iowa is demonstrate that they are lies. Investing in renewable energy is not costly. We won’t live in caves in the dark when you decide to become an environmentalist. That paper says that.
ST: That’s actually I think a really, really important point because of course there is a part of the argument that advocates sort of a downsizing of lifestyle, and that’s maybe the most difficult thing for people to take on board. And in fact, of course as soon as you talk in those terms the resistance is massive. But numbers are king also, and of course one of the arguments would be that you could subsidize any industry via tax credits and policy and bring it back home from other countries or create an industry in a state. So, since you could do this for various industries, everyone could advocate that for their industry. What is different about renewable energy?
DO: What is good about renewable energy is it is sustainable over the long run. It’s not only that we’re going to give jobs out of this. There are jobs that are going to continue when the reality kicks in that we don’t have enough oil, when reality kicks in that we may have enough coal but we don’t have enough atmosphere. Because coal is polluting the atmosphere so much that we cannot continue to use it. Therefore, sustainability is the most important criteria when you look where your jobs are going to be in the future. And when you’ve talked about you can give tax credit and encourage, anything, most of the development of wind was not pushed by tax credits; it was rather pushed by mandates. People like credits because it’s friendlier to the business community, or the business community likes it better. I like the idea of hitting them in the head. You hit them in the head a little bit. When we did our demand that utility companies have to have a certain amount of renewable energy, we didn’t say it has to be 20%, we said it had to be 2%. The extra was brought on when they found their self-interest. But to make them see their self-interest sometimes you have to make them do things they don’t want to do. Mid-American never liked this bill. They fought it forever. They went to court and the rules had strayed too far from what the original law had said and consequently they won. We come back in 1990 and rewrite it, we thought we had a deal put together by legislators and the head of the Utility Regulatory Agency in the state, a guy named Dennis Nagel, and the utility companies, and they welched on the deal I believe. They’ll deny it. They, I think they did, and we had to fight them for another nine years. Finally, finally they obeyed the law. Then they discovered maybe it was them discovering it or maybe it was Warren Buffet buying the company, they are one of the leaders and they are proud of it, go look at their website, they’re real proud of it. But they didn’t start it on their own, they started it because we made them do it, and that’s not tax credits, that’s a demand that you have to behave in a certain way because all of us in this country have a right to expect.
JM: What a perfect definition for policy, the purpose of policy and policy well done. I want to ask you, and remind my listeners we are speaking with David Osterberg, he’s founder and executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, also teaches here at the U of I, University of Iowa, and has two master’s degrees, one in water resources management and also agricultural economics. And I want to ask you about how you got involved, first of all in this area, second of all with politics and then your transition out of it.
DO: When I taught at Cornell College, this goes back to that point, I was an economics professor there. Got very interested in energy and in fact got interested in doing consulting. I was actually consulting on how do you make utility companies buy renewable energy. And so I had been a consultant for the state of Florida and for the state of Iowa on what was called PURPA, the Public Utility Regulatories Policy Act of 1978, Jimmy Carter’s 1978 Energy Act. That’s one that actually said utility companies had to buy renewables, our law just said they just had to buy them at a reasonable price, the Feds had messed that up. So, I had done that as a small college professor, I then got into the legislature because I thought that you could make the things you thought about into a reality. And we did that for quite a while, for about ten of my twelve years. We were doing very good policy work. Ground water protection was something that we passed in 1987, 1983 Renewable Energy Act, we did an Energy Efficiency act in 1990. We did a lot of really good stuff. I then left and did some consulting work on nuclear power. So, that was before Nuclear Power Regulatory Commission a bunch, and then decided to start this place. There’s always ways you can do policy. You can do policy as, you know, a law maker. You can do policy as I also did working for the Department of Natural Resources here. Paul Johnson was my boss, one of the best environmentalists this state has ever put out. So, there was a way you could do policy there, and there’s also a way you can do it through the Iowa Policy Project which writes papers and tries to get involved in the environment, but also in the state budget, and a lot of poor people’s stuff. You know, when you think about it there are a whole number of handles out there, you just have to figure out which handle you can get ahold of and hold on to long enough. I guess that’s a good metaphor for being reelected a bunch of times. And then figure out how you work it, and when you do you can actually make some difference.
JM: There’s some sort of debate over the climate change issue, I know this has been a big passion of yours, talking about climate change, and I have some intelligent friends of mine who point me to this or that, and CO2, and we’re not sure, and the warming trends and that brings some confusion. I think overall there’s a pretty clear consensus, anyway just your perspective on climate change.
DO: There’s no debate in climate change. There’s no debate. Climate change is a reality, it’s a reality, it’s happening it’s probably happening faster than people originally thought it was happening. The debate out there is a pretend debate among policy makers and idiots who have decided that for political reasons they don’t want to see this happen. It’s not an accident that Exxon Mobile has been funding a whole lot of these so-called skeptics. There’s no science on their side. What happens is it isn’t just the one day thing it’s hotter, it’s things that used to happen once every hundred years happen once every ten years, and then they happen once every two years, then they happen all the damn time and you’ve changed your climate. That’s the kind of change I think we’ll see happening. And there’ll be I think there will be extraordinary things that come about. You can do nothing and wait until things happen to you without any kind of planning and that seems to be this nonsense of everything is short term question and I don’t have to think about the future. But if you’re really concerned about climate change, or if you’re concerned about sustainable jobs, you do the same thing, and that is you invest in your universities, you invest in ways in which your economy is going to be stronger because it’s going to be tied into what the future is going to be. That’s why getting back to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state of Iowa that’s the best thing we can be doing for jobs, for the environment, for the health of kids.
ST: I just wanted to ask you about your views on wind energy, solar and biomass. Because obviously they all have their own particular advantages, disadvantages, and so on. What is your view going forward, as to the contribution to those various technologies? There is perhaps more controversy around biomass because of the amount of energy that you get out for the energy you put in and so on. So, where do you see these industries as being at the moment, particularly in Iowa?
DO: In Iowa I think wind is going to continue to be a big wind. That is individual turbines might be two megawatts, two and a half megawatts maybe more in size. Way up in the air three or four hundred feet. I think that’s what’s going to happen in Iowa. There was a Department of Energy got together with a whole bunch of other organizations in 2008 and put out a paper about 20% of our electricity will come from wind by the year 2030. That’s a goal that is very, very feasible. It’s a goal that’s feasible to the extent that you build enough transmission lines to get that big wind out. That’s going to continue to happen. Iowa’s going to continue to be a place where that to happens. When it comes to solar, big solar is probably something you should do in the desserts of Arizona and California. When you talk about solar in Iowa it’s probably going to be rough-tough solar, it’s going to be distributed, you don’t have to worry about transmission because if you fill a school roof with solar panels you know you can get the energy out because that school gets energy in to run the air-conditioners and everything else. So, it’s something that doesn’t require that kind of extra expense. We oughta be doing a lot more. If you look at what’s going on in Europe, schools are making arrangements with red-blooded entrepreneurs to fill up their roofs. And everybody does better. The school gets the money, the entrepreneur gets money, and it might rates a little bit but it’s surprising how little. You’re doing something that’s also clean that doesn’t necessitate you doing some other things like store nuclear waste raw someplace. So, I think that we’re going to find solar is going to be distributed. You can do distributed power with wind too but solar I think is a natural for that. When it comes to biomass, it really depends on the kind of biomass. You can take switch grass from rough ground and burn it along with coal in a power plant. That seems to me more sustainable than the coal for sure. If you want to make ethanol and you want to make it out of corn you’re always going to have this problem of the technology. The technology really is only kind of there. You get something more out of it. In order to get that corn you had to put on it a lot of nitrogen to fertilize. You had to run all kinds of big equipment all over big fields and you had to transport that stuff. And then you finally get it to make ethanol from it. That means that maybe you get 30% more power out than you put in. That’s not good enough. Cellulosic ethanol might be good enough, and things like using sugarcane as Brazilians do is a lot better than that. So, it depends on how it is you’re going to use that. So, biomass to the extent that it is part of what you’re already doing, but I think that there are better ways, there are better fuels, there’s better resources that you can use than corn, but right now we started that industry. That industry has got to this point. This industry is better than the oil companies for sure. And so, that has been something that we have been able to do that then allows the next step which is not going to be corn anymore, it’s going to be something else. But I think the corn ethanol industry really needs to be praised because it has got us this far.
ST: What about the straight shoot out in terms of energy costs, because of course oil is like really good at generating energy. People are now talking a lot about natural gas. You know, when you do comparisons you have a shoot out on the numbers, obviously people quote two cents per kilowatt hour for coal fired stations and they compare it with wind turbines and obviously this is the trenches, what they argue about in terms of these numbers is having cheap energy for the future.
DO: Future, that’s exactly right, when you give me a figure like two cents for coal that’s right. For a depreciated coal plant that’s also causing asthma for a whole bunch of people. The National Academy of Sciences, and that’s the most prestigious scientific body in the United States did a recent study, within the last eighteen months, of the uncounted cost of coal. So, when you add up all of the things that coal brings you aside from kilowatt hours that you see coming out of that light bulb, you have to add on three cents to whatever that number is for the health effects. Then you add on another number which could be ten cents, could be one cent depend on what you put the value of climate change at, let’s say it’s three cents, then we have another three cents. So, you have to add six cents on to anything, and the price of a new coal-fired power plant’s not two cents, it’s six cents. So, the real price of coal is twelve. Cheapest kilowatt hour you can generate electricity from in Iowa today is wind. Cheaper than natural gas, cheaper than solar, cheaper than coal. Now, it isn’t necessarily the best kilowatt hour because the wind kinda likes to blow in the middle of the night and in the winter where nobody wants the power. Therefore, there is a problem of storage. But wind is already there, solar is coming. The changes that have come about in solar power are also pretty amazing. When you think about renewables, you’re also thinking about new as well as clean. And the new part comes about because of the technological change which happens to a coal-fired power plant as well as to a wind plant. But it happens more for things that are newer and in the right direction, and that’s why they are newer.
ST: I just wanted to ask you then, just to conclude what your policies focuses are at the moment. What you’ve got cooking, as it were.
DO: Well, the first thing is how do you get enough investment in the kinds of things you want? So, what we’ve been working on here at the Iowa Policy Project, first to demonstrate that the size of state government is not out of control, it’s smaller now than it was when Terry Branstad was last our governor in 1998, it’s about 15% smaller, not bigger. The second, that everybody knows this last blowup in the economy happened because a bunch of greedy bankers and Wall Street and your response is to go slap a teacher around is really a stupid solution. And what we’ve found is that when you compare the jobs in private sector and the public sector, and you do at the same levels of education, private sector people make more than public sector workers, a lot more, and the benefits that the public sector has which is as good as the very big firms, that that makes up for some of the differences but not all of it. So, public workers are paid less than private workers, which is exactly the opposite of what we’ve been told. Lastly, that there’s this notion out there we shouldn’t spend money what we should do is give tax breaks. When you look at it there’s no evidence, no evidence that works. And in fact, if you try to do something like they’re doing now which is the state legislature says the next thing we have to do is give property tax breaks not to industry, which would make some sense and jobs, but to the commercial sector. So, they want to give a tax break to that Super Wal-Mart store. That Super Wal-Mart store is coming in to Fairfield because Wal-Mart decided that’s where they want to have their damn plant, not because somebody’s going to give them, they don’t care what the property tax is because what they have done with their decision is they know where everyone of their stores is going to be for the next five years. It’s not going to have any effect, your giving away a tax break. It’s some dumb notion that we’re trying to figure out how people aren’t quite so dumb about this one. So, there are three things that we’re doing right now.
JM: I’m really delighted, David Osterberg, to be able to speak with you. Wanna remind listeners you are listening to the Dream Green Series here. We’re in a special segment we are visiting at the Iowa Policy Project. Anything we’ve left out or anything that you could leave us with in terms of what people can do with regard to policy, with regard to these subjects? Is it getting involved with an organization like yours? What do they do? Where do they go?
DO: Sure, getting involved with an organization like ours, iowapolicyproject.org is where you find us. But when it comes to solar there was a bill in the Iowa Legislature this year, passed out of the senate 49:1, it passed out of House Committee with very favorable votes, and then it didn’t go anyplace. All that would’ve done is to say, ok if you want to put a couple of kilowatts of solar power on your roof, we’re gonna help you do that by giving you a tax credit up to about $3,000. It would have made this industry just move ahead a lot faster. It happens only when your local legislator’s saying to the Speaker of the House in this case who wouldn’t bring it up, ‘listen, my constituents want that. They want it a lot, and you better help me get them what they want or they won’t have me anymore because they’re gonna elect someone else.’ People can get involved. So, in this case here’s a bill, a very simple bill, we should be doing solar on school roofs, we should be doing lots of things. We will, we will because it’s the right thing to do. Push your legislator, make sure that’s she’s accountable. What is she doing? What does she say about this? How has she voted? And I think that’s why politics are an important part of this. I also think research is an important part of that, and that’s again why supporting something like the Iowa Policy Project will get what you want too because we’ll have the paper for the legislator so she can point to this and say, and I want it because there’s a lot of good jobs here.
JM: You’re listening to the Dream Green Series here on solar-powered KRUU-FM. Joining me in the studio, my co-host Stuart Tanner. And today we have a special guest, his name is John Collins. He has been on KRUU before. We are going to be talking to John about policy issues, policy matters. He is the associate chair of the sustainable living department at Maharishi University of Management, full-time faculty. He specializes in policy for energy, food security, global sustainability and climate change. We are delighted to welcome you to the studios, John. How are you doing?
John Collins: Very well, thanks.
JM: As is often the tradition around these parts, we’ll toss the first question over to you, Stuart.
ST: Great to have an opportunity to talk to you, John. We’ve talked with you a number of times on the Tanner and Moore show, always been highly informative to talk to you. You better do the same today! But yeah, I wanted to start off on the big picture really, and just ask you because a number of people let slip during our interviews that America doesn’t have a national energy policy. It would be good to investigate that and what that means.
JC: Well, if you look back over ninety years say, or a hundred years of energy policy in America, there’s been about maybe seventeen big rounds of legislation and they basically cover about five different areas. The primary policy objective is to provide reliable supply up to the level of demand to anybody who wants it anywhere in the United States. And that’s gone reasonably well. Second is to manage new technologies that emerge. I’m talking about hydro, nuclear and renewables. The third is to manage handouts and privileges. So, grants, subsides, tax credits, the granting of monopolies and the controlling of the excessive monopolies. That’s gone not so well. Then when more recent times with the OPEC crisis, energy security, energy independence became a big focus. That was with Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter started work on that area. And then finally more recently, the environment and the climate change issues have come up the agenda. So, there’s the sort of five areas that policy has covered. Now, some countries have a kind of one consolidated document of energy policy, like the UK say, and then subsidiary policies. Others have none at all, like India. China has a pretty good energy policy, but it has several main documents, and America is somewhere in that area. It’s not that it doesn’t have a policy, but one of the main things I want to bring out today is the inconsistency through time of those policies in distinct contrast to say, China, and the cost that that has to America.
ST: Let’s first of all bring it to a more local level for the Iowa state. How does the national policy sort of influence Iowa in that respect?
JC: There is federal money available, and Iowa has been, I would say, good at taking up the challenge of spending that money. It’s not necessarily easy to spend money. For instance, under the American Reinvestments and Recovery Act from 2009 we had money for about 10,000 homes’ weatherization. So far I think about seven, seven and a half thousand have been done. That’s from a standing start. That industry sprung up and Americans have taken the opportunity. And it’s a good example because sadly, when that program runs out of money then all that capacity that’s been built up in the local industry will have to go and find something else to do. Well, that’s the way it looks at the minute.
ST: So, Iowa is people say it’s quite a progressive state with regard to green policies, renewable energy, how would you characterize it and why would it be called that?
JC: I would say it’s moderately progressive. You know, it’s not as developed as say Colorado or California in its policies but one good thing here is it’s got some good resources, it’s got good renewable resources of wind, bio-mass and solar is moderately good actually. Four and a half hours average a day full sunshine through the year. What’s worked really well here is the wind because we’re up to about 17% of state electricity produced by wind and the green light has come on for that because production tax credits offered by the federal government coincide with the interests of the local utilities who can build wind farms, hold on to their centralized production model and go forward into the future with clean energy. So, that’s worked well. So, in that sense they’re progressive. They’ve been spending money well. I like the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, I’m sorry that that’s coming to an end actually, although it’s going to be segueing into the Department of Economic Opportunities. The Iowa office, their policy goals is to develop biofuels from renewables, to expand clean tech jobs, to focus on energy efficiency, and support to the instigation of a federal renewables mandate for electricity. Now that would be a great thing. There are quite a lot of states with renewable portfolios with standards, but it would be great to do it on a national level, which you know an awful lot of countries have done and America is way behind in this respect. In Europe they’re aiming for 20% renewables by 2020. I think China’s gonna beat that. A couple of states, like Colorado, are aiming for that. But Iowa doesn’t have a target as such. So, although it is doing well but a national standard to aim for would really galvanize things.
JM: It’s interesting, what we’re hearing from Tom Winn this round is that the wind industry is growing. We’ll reach 20% this year they’re anticipating, and go past that. I mean that puts Iowa, even though it doesn’t have a standard 20% in terms of electricity, a pretty serious player in this area.
JC: Yeah, and I think that reflects, as I say, the convergence of interests between the utility presence of wind in the north of the state and the federal production tax credits.
ST: This is the nuts and bolts stuff of why there is big wind farms in Iowa. So, could you go into the explanation of how the production tax credits work?
JC: They’re renewed quite regularly, every two, three years, and the idea is that currently for instance if you’re planning a wind farm, if you can get it up and running supplying electricity by December 2012 then you’ll get 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour and that’ll be over a period of years. Now, that is a significant subsidy if you consider that base load supply of coal electricity you’re looking at four to five cents a kilowatt hour and a similar range for wind.
ST: When you say four or five per kilowatt hour, that’s the actual cost of the energy, that’s not a tax credit, that’s what coal costs to produce.
JC: To produce, at the factory gate as it were. It’s certainly not what the people are charged, because there is intermediary and peak load issues. So, there’s the federal of money, it’s delivered into the system in Iowa they get this money, now the thing is that supposing you’re an electricity provider now of an utility and you want to plan for a big wind farm, you’ve got to get it up and running by December 2012 because there’s no provision beyond that. Now, this is the continuous problem in America, assistance wind started with President Carter in the second half of the 70’s and at that time America was leading the world in terms of technology and capacity. And what’s happened since then is basically there’s been a stop, start, stop, start attitude towards this. They’ve never said, look, this is where we want to go with wind over the next fifteen, twenty years. These production tax credits are going to carry on at some kind of level and you can plan into the future. This is in distinct contrast with China who has a model of consistency and cooperation with industry to enable industries to develop. When you’re developing a new sector, which this is essentially, you have to foster it just like the Japanese fostered photovoltaic and Germans have fostered a range of renewables through feed in tariff systems. So, America has to get some consistency to foster new sectors.
ST: Obviously there’s the tax credit. By getting that tax credit it means that it’s making the wind energy more competitive compared to what is produced by a coal-fired station. Do you know the actual numbers there? As far as I know, coal-fired station energy is like about four cents per kilowatt hour.
JC: It’s actually a closely guarded secret plant by plant. I’ve asked them and they definitely won’t tell you. But that’s the kind of figure you hear, it’ may be less. It varies a lot between plants obviously. 4440 T? is the biggest obviously, three quarters of a gigawatt. The one in Burlington’s much smaller. I’ve no doubt it’s not so economic. But yeah, those are the numbers, but we’re talking about base load supply. Now listeners should understand that everyday there’s a peak load while intermediate and peak that bulges in the middle of the day and at that time everything is switched on, especially in the hot summer months and at that time there’s a wholesale market. The cost there is not four cents an hour, it’s ten to twenty cents an hour and other parts of the country it will go up to thirty cents a kilowatt hour. So, this is significant money even now solar-voltaic and concentrated solar thermal is economically competitive to deliver on intermediate and peak load electricity, even now. And wind is knocking on the door of coal. What you also have to remember of course, is the four cents an hour for coal does not take any account of the environmental impacts of mining, the health of the nation, the real cost of that kilowatt hour when you add those things in, I hate to think what it is. So, the huge external costs which you don’t get with wind and you don’t get with solar. And this is why it’s so important and why it’s so important to move to the sustainable energy sources. We’re talking about our health, and we’re talking about our bank balance, and of course also meets the criteria of economic and energy security and independence you know. So they tic all the boxes.
ST: Another area that’s really worth clarifying and investigating is feed in tariffs. What are they and how do they work?
JC: Firstly, what are they? Feed in tariffs are actually terrific in my opinion and the best example is Germany. It’s a system whereby anybody who wants to put electricity into the grid, be it a household or a factory or a big utility, whatever, they get a guaranteed rate per kilowatt hour, contractually guaranteed over a period of fifteen to twenty years. The price they get is specific to the source of energy, you know, so if it’s solar p.v. on a domestic roof top they’ll get one price per kilowatt hour, if it’s a wind farm in northern Germany somewhere then that gets a different price. The prices are determined by what’ll make it happen, just enough to make it happen. The idea is to foster all sectors of the renewable energy market. They brought the system in and people were saying, oh it’s gonna cost a lot, because you’re paying over the odds per kilowatt hour for your solar voltaic on Joe Blow’s garage roof. What actually happened was everybody got enthusiastic because that’s the German psychology, they want clean energy, they got enthusiastic and big energy industry grew up installing these things, a lot of know-how developed, that know-how feeding back in to more national standards and systems. It was a maturing industry. This meant that new power stations didn’t have to be built, and that is a very, very big saving. What really makes the big difference is if you don’t have to build that last power station which maybe you only have to turn on three or four days a year. So, in fact, the system in Germany has been a great success, it surpassed their expectations and it surprised them in the way that they’re actually saving money and keeping energy costs down.
ST: What’s the feed in tariff situation in Iowa?
JC: There’s nothing that deserves the name feed in tariff. In America you have something which again Jimmy Carter brought in which is called the net metering, and that is that if any state wants to it can say that utilities have to accept electricity from customers in their area and that they’ll pay a certain rate. A rather low rate, but they’ll pay something. And Iowa has exceeded to that program, so it has a net metering program, I think it’s about five cents per kilowatt hour. It’s not specific to the energy source, it’s not specific to the scale, I believe it’s just a flat rate.
ST: So, if you have solar panels and things on your house, and you had some excess energy and it went into the grid, you’d get five cents per kilowatt hour for it?
JC: Yeah, that’s my understanding, yeah.
JM: I just want to tell my listeners, we’re speaking with Associate Chair of the Sustainable Living Department, John Collins. Full time faculty at MUM specializing in, as you can tell, policy for energy, food security, global sustainability and climate change. I’m James Moore with Stuart Tanner for the Dream Green Series here. Getting into some of the nuts and bolts on policy and approaches to government support of new industry and so forth.
ST: At the Iowa level, the state level, you’ve been investigating policy. So, what are the key things you think need to be done? Where are improvements needed really?
JC: I would love to see a feed in tariff system for Iowa. I’m not aware of any reason that can’t be done. The utilities, they have to take a certain amount of their money and use it to educate the public in energy efficiency measures and conservation and so on. I’d very much like to see that taken away from them. They provide the money, it goes to separate people. Otherwise it’s a bit like the game keeper being put in charge of training poachers, it’s a joke actually. It’s great PR for them, but actually I’m not quite sure how much result is generated by that. I think there’s a quite a close relationship between, if I can be quite frank about it, the utilities and the legislature in Iowa. I mean obviously the utilities are very big organization in Iowa and they’re very important, they’re supplying electricity which is vital to life, but I would like to see less election funding from the utilities going in to both sides back to the capital in Des Moines. And I think we need some voice I think is a great campaign. Vote your own Iowa, clean elections campaign. To just try and separate those interests because as we move into the age of solar, which we are moving into one way or another, because we’re coming down the experience curve of solar, it’s becoming cheaper and cheaper, it’s clean, it can be done on big scales, it can be done domestically. It’s got so many advantages, we’ve got the sun in a lot of the United States, there’s no reason not to go for it. That is something which doesn’t necessarily support the centralized model. So, we’ve really got to say well, the utilities have their role, centralized production, but we’ve got to give head room to distributing system which creates a more resilient system for sustainability, that’s where it feed in tariff comes in and maybe a little bit of a separation in terms of the flow of money, and so on, between the legislatures and the Iowa utilities. I’m not saying it’s some big corrupt thing, but it’s just always there’s a lot of influence there.
ST: John, what about other critical areas, is there anything else you want to mention in terms of policy and Iowa?
JC: One very good thing is there’s a lot of education in schools. So, on the positive side, I was talking to a school teacher today and it’s integrated into all sorts of subjects, geography, chemistry, social science and so on, this understanding of the relationship between the environment, the ecology, carbon emissions, and climate change. It gets a little more developed as they get older, so I think that’s very good. Raising building code standards I think would be a very good thing. We’ve got the lighting mandate coming in thanks to George Bush, 2014 incandescents will no longer be produced. I think the feed in tariff is the top of my list definitely, there’s absolutely no question about it. That’s the one I’d go for. I think these kinds of programs, more education of the public in general. I personally believe if you get more and more information out there, reasonable people will come to fairly similar conclusions. And what’s happening in America is the information isn’t supplied, so you get this polarization views which is bizarre really because there’s such a radical difference in the national policies. Why is that you know? It’s just this lack of information and understanding coming up from the media.
JM: But I love that you’ve looked clearly at the details, there’s no reason why policy couldn’t reflect these things that are growing. And it’s sort of knowing which trigger to pull, actually that’s probably a bad metaphor, but which place to go to affect that change, how to gather together, what policy can do and working there. Taking what the electric companies have done positively and seeing what you can do yourself. And I guess that’s one of the great things about being in a place like Fairfield, where a lot of people are doing that.
JC: I do think Iowa has a lot going for it and I think the people around America, and especially outside America they don’t really understand however, it’s got a rich culture actually and it has a lot of sophisticated thought going on here and it’s no surprise to me the presidential primaries start here. It’s an interesting place, Iowa, much more than what some people think. I just say one more thing about Iowa, you know we’re talking about policy proposals; I’d like to send the Iowa legislators to Denmark and look at their biofuel generation system. This is where you grow something like switch grass or hay, whatever, you burn it and you produce electricity and also you produce heat and you use it locally. It’s a distributive system; it’s perfect for an agricultural area. This is something which Iowa should be absolutely embracing. It’s an absolute slam dunk, to use the American expression, and it isn’t really happening, hardly at all. And it’s a great pity.
ST: Here’s a little test for you, what is ‘it’s a cookie cutter’? What does that one mean?
JC: I actually know that one. It’s one of the ones I learned. It means that it’s sort of a mass produced item that can be produced lots of them all the same.
ST: Is that right James?
JM: That’s absolutely correct.
ST: Ok, well good, you get ten points for that. As a fellow Brit, how’s it being in Fairfield and Iowa then? What’s it like for you?
JC: As a fellow Brit, well, I think it’s a bit like what I said earlier, you know Americans will take opportunities, they go ahead, they have a can-do attitude. When I arrived here, if I said I could do something they said ok, we’ll give you a go. Whereas in Britain everybody’s much more cynical and careful. It actually produces quite good governance but there’s less of that go ahead feel about it. So, the go ahead can work well, it can work badly; it’s just a difference in culture.
ST: Thanks John, that’s again very, very informative and useful for us and our viewers. And those facts and figures will be swimming around in our head like a shone of tropical fish. Also, I know you’re a very sustainable guy and you have green fingers, or since we’re in America green thumbs. I’ve enjoyed some of your produce as well. I think didn’t you slip me a courgette the other day.
JC: That’s right, how was it?
ST: It was splendid, yes.
JM: All I can say is…
ST: That’s going to end up on the cutting room floor, I hope.
JM: I guess we’re done playing American idiom. That was all French to me. Thank you so much for being yourself. Please don’t go changing to try and please me. I love you just the way I am, and that’s the final word.