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DNR: Greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa down for second year in a row


Story County, Iowa wind turbines
Wind turbines line the highway in Story County, Iowa. — photo by Carl WyCoff via Flickr Creative Commons

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Iowa are down for the second year in a row according to a report released last Wednesday by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

In 2013, GHG emissions in Iowa decreased .51 percent from 2012 levels, with emissions falling a total of 6.78 percent from their peak in 2007, the report states.

The DNR attributes this decline to a decrease in the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity at power plants, whereupon emissions have fallen 21.76 percent from their peak in 2010 — dropping from 42.3 million metric tons in 2010 to 33.1 million metric tons in 2013.

* This chart does not include carbon sinks from land use, land use change and forestry. -- Chart and data via the 2013 Iowa Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report
Greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa measured in million metric tons. * This chart does not include carbon sinks from land use, land use change and forestry. — chart via the 2013 Iowa Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report

“We expect the power plant emissions to continue to decrease,” said Marnie Stein, Environmentalist Specialist Senior at the Iowa DNR. “We have several units that are either converting to natural gas or shutting down, and there’s also new wind coming in.”

Indeed, the percentage of electricity generated by coal in Iowa has dropped significantly in recent years, falling from 78 percent in 2005 to 59 percent in 2013. The percentage of Iowa’s electricity that comes from wind power, meanwhile, has seen a dramatic increase over that same time period, rising from 4 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2013.

The percentage of electricity in Iowa generated by coal has fallen significantly since 2005. -- chart via the 2013...
The percentage of electricity in Iowa generated by coal has fallen significantly since 2005. — chart via the 2013 Iowa Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report

Other sectors are more difficult to forecast, Stein says. Despite Iowa’s cumulative drop in GHG emissions, certain sectors’ emissions are on the rise, including that of Iowa’s agriculture sector — the leading cause of Iowa GHG emissions in 2013. Emissions resulting from residential, commercial and industrial fuel use (e.g., private entities that burn propane, natural gas and so on) is also rising year-by-year.

Given the important role agriculture plays in Iowa, however, DNR officials say there are some GHG emission mitigation strategies that the state is currently investigating in order to curb these figures.

Stein suggests some carbon is sequestered in Iowa’s soil, noting that some of those emissions could be mitigated by encouraging farmers to institute no-till agriculture. The state is also looking into anaerobic digestion — a process whereby microorganisms break down waste material, creating a methane-infused biogas that can be burned to generate electricity.

And while Iowans continues to invest more heavily in wind power (MidAmerican Energy announced its plans earlier this year to invest an additional $280 million in Iowa wind power, in fact), state officials are quick to point out that tax credits are available at the state level for smaller-scale projects as well.

The efficacy of these incentive programs is still unclear, though Utility Analyst Ellen Shaw of the Iowa Utilities Board says the state has approved numerous applicants.

The Iowa Department of Revenue will soon release a tax credit evaluation report, which will provide a clearer sense of the impact these incentive programs have had in Iowa. Shaw says the department of revenue plans to release the report before the start of the 2015 Iowa legislative session, which begins on Jan. 12.

Download the full report.

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