Editorial: Boost wind and solar power


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Today is Earth Day, a time to celebrate the environment and its resilience but also another reminder that the window to enact proactive measures to curb the effects of climate change is very real and closing fast.

A report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released last week warned governments around the world that if action on carbon reductions is put off beyond next year, the potential costs of climate-change mitigation will rise dramatically. At the current pace, greenhouse gases could raise temperatures worldwide by as much as 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

So many of the main environmental contributions to climate change will have to be addressed at the national and international levels that more local solutions seem hardly worth the time, but Iowa has emerged as one of the nation’s leaders in alternative-energy production. Policymakers can and should act to further boost the state’s energy-generation capacity, particularly with respect to wind and solar power.

Last year, according to a report released this month by the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa produced a higher percentage of its energy through wind than any other state in the country. Approximately 27 percent of Iowa’s electricity was generated by wind.

The same report found that wind generation avoided 95.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2013, the equivalent to taking 16.9 million cars off the road by providing energy that otherwise would have been produced by more carbon-intensive processes such as burning coal.

Unfortunately, wind production is again being held back by politics. The wind-energy tax credit that the government uses to support the production of alternative energy has lapsed. The credit, being debated again in Congress, has been reauthorized and allowed to expire so often in recent years that the production of new wind-power installations has been severely held back by uncertainty. In 2013, when the fate of the tax credit was unclear, new wind capacity installations fell by 92 percent.

The tax credit increases investment in wind technology and allows for further innovation in the industry. To stabilize investment in wind, policymakers should pass a long-term extension of the tax credit.

Wind energy isn’t Iowa’s only potential source of alternative energy; the state is primed for a substantial increase in its solar-energy capacity as well. According to a report from the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa has one of the nation’s highest potential capacities for solar-power generation, thanks to the state’s weather and topography. By committing only 21 square miles to solar energy, the state could generate 10 percent of its energy from solar power.

Despite their environmental appeal, the proliferation of such technologies is often shouted down by claims that such measures would be economically inefficient compared with continued use of fossil fuels. The U.N. report on climate change, however, drew on the research of more than 1,000 experts and found that a major worldwide shift away from fossil fuels toward sources such as wind and solar would only reduce global economic growth by about 0.06 percent per year.

The plain fact is that the time for action on climate change has long since passed. While many global factors remain well out of our control, Iowa has the capability to generate a significant portion of its energy with only a marginally increased commitment of resources.

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