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Green coalition unveils statewide renewable energy plan

BY ELEANOR MARSHALL | JULY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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When UI senior engineering student Zach Carter graduates in May 2013, he won't look for white-collar comfort. He wants a green-collar job.

Carter, an organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition, spoke at the first conference held by the new coalition Iowa Renewable Energy Jobs 2020 about his hopes not only for his future but the entire state's.

"Renewable energy delivers to Iowa nothing but great opportunities — including advanced training in our schools, green-collar jobs, energy independence, and even the awesome potential for Iowans to sell electricity back to the grid," he said. "I want these opportunities to last and to expand. As I approach graduation, I look forward to a renewable-energy job — a green-collar career, and I shouldn't have to follow it out of state. I joined this [coalition] because I am afraid of being a direct victim of Iowa brain drain."

The Iowa Renewable Energy Jobs 2020 unveiled a new plan Tuesday to fight just that — pushing to create 20,000 jobs and save consumers $1 billion statewide each year in energy costs by the year 2020 through development of renewable energy in Iowa. The initiative also calls for 40 percent of Iowa's energy to come from renewable sources, no ratepayer financing for nuclear energy, and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The coalition unites more than 30 renewable-energy and sustainability-advocacy organizations ,including the Sierra Club, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.

Steve Fugate, a local renewable energy installer who spoke at the conference, said the initiative is a way to channel the energy of citizens who are concerned about impending climate crises.

"Once you're out of water, it's a little late to start conserving," he said. "We're trying to get ahead of the curve a little and to create a coalition that can funnel the energy of people who feel anxiety about what's to come."

Throughout the day, the coalition highlighted the many ways renewable energy benefits Iowa — not just the environment.

Fugate stressed the potential for creating jobs through the green economy. He said installing alternative energy isn't minimum-wage labor but can pay $20 to $30 per hour.

He said despite what he considers a lack of governmental leadership in providing incentives and loosened regulations, the movement represents a grass-roots effort to start to build the local economy into a strong and sustainable one.

Maureen McCue, the coordinator for Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, said improving sustainable infrastructure not only makes for a healthier economy, it betters the well-being of Iowans themselves.

"We tend to forget, but we are interdependent," she said. "Both our personal and environmental health are at risk."

She said burning fossil fuels causes air pollution linked to maladies from asthma to heart disease and diabetes.

Bob Sessions, a representative of Iowa City Climate Advocates and Interfaith Power and Light, reminded the audience that the coalition's goals can be met right now, without waiting on technological breakthroughs.

"We already know how to insulate houses, how to plant trees, how to do cross-ventilation," he said.

According to a report from the coalition, energy-efficiency improvements of 1.5 percent would result in 4,473 net jobs and save Iowans $68 million in income benefits. Meanwhile, generating 20 percent of Iowa's electricity using renewable sources could save $83 million by 2020.

Dianne Dillon-Ridgley of Plains Justice, another partner, said of all America's historic struggles — from slavery to secession to suffrage — sustainability is the newest and most pressing.

"[This coalition is about] speaking in our communities and speaking to our legislators," McCue said. "We can do something. We can build a better future."


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