Greenhouse gas emissions decline in Iowa as renewable energy use increases

Wind turbines in Iowa. — photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Iowa’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased last year, thanks, in part, to increases in the amount of wind and solar power the state is producing, according to a new report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 2016 Iowa Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report shows the state emitted 128 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, a decrease of two percent from 2015 levels.

In a press release accompanying the report, the DNR described the 2016 emission levels as the equalivent of “sending 6 million tons of garbage to the landfill instead of recycling it,” and noted “it would take 151 million acres of forest to store that amount of carbon.”

The report breaks down greenhouse gas emissions according to the sector of the economy that produces them, and 2016 saw an increase in emissions from every sector, except power plants. Emissions from power plants declined by 14 percent, which was more than enough to offset increases in the other sectors.

According to the report, the decrease was due to combination of mild weather, which reduced demand for power, and an increased use of zero-emission sources of energy. The state’s amount of electricity generated by coal dropped to 25 million megawatt hours, a 14.1 percent decrease from its 2015 level, while electricity generated by wind increased to 20 million megawatt hours, a rise of 12.2 percent. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which the DNR uses to compile its annual greenhouse gas reports, solar power accounted for 416 megawatt hours of electricity in Iowa in 2016. Iowa generated so little energy from solar power in 2015 that it was not included as a power source in EIA statistics.

According to the DNR, 78 percent of the electricity was generated in the state came from coal-fired plants in 2005, the first year a greenhouse gas report was issued. In 2016, the number was 47 percent. During the same period, the percentage of electricity of generated by wind power in the state has risen from 4 to 37 percent.

Unsurprisingly, agriculture was the biggest contributor to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. The agriculture sector of the economy was responsible for 39.5 million metric tons of emissions, an increase of 1.8 percent from 2015. Agriculture accounted for 31 percent of the state’s emissions.

There is no national ranking of states by amount of greenhouse gas emissions, because not every state compiles an annual report, explained DNR Senior Environmental Specialist Marnie Stein.

“I can say that our level of emissions of greenhouse gas on a per capita basis is higher than most other states,” Stein said. “But that’s because we have a relatively small population and more emissions from animals and crop land, so it skews the results.”

Stein pointed out that this is the second year in a row that the report has documented a decline in greenhouse gas emissions, and said the DNR expects that trend to continue.

“We have at least another 3,200 megawatts of additional renewables coming on line in the next four years,” Stein said. “So, the energy emission are likely to continue to decrease, which should continue to drive the decrease in overall emissions.”

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