Des Moines carbon-free electricity goal, now a year old, was a beginning, not an end

posted on Thursday, January 13, 2022 in Energy News

This guest column was originally published in the Des Moines Register on 1/11/22.

January 11, 2022, marks the one-year anniversary of the Des Moines City Council’s unanimous adoption of a resolution setting a goal of 24/7 carbon-free electricity by 2035. This resolution garnered national attention and instantly made the City of Des Moines a national and global leader in combatting climate change and setting ambitious and comprehensive clean energy goals.  

The significance of Des Moines’ 24/7 clean energy goal compared to other 100% clean energy initiatives is that it requires all the electricity used in Des Moines to come from clean energy generation around-the-clock, rather than a mix of clean energy and fossil fuel sources that may be 100% clean energy at limited times. Such a narrow clean energy vision was a good first step, but the urgency of addressing climate change means a new kind of policy is needed—one that will meet the challenge of achieving real, zero-carbon electricity. 

As with all ambitious goals, the measure of success will be whether Des Moines can make significant, measurable progress toward this goal.  We believe that a focus on community involvement, equity, efficiency, and partnerships with local businesses and our utility—MidAmerican Energy—can drive the city forward so that we are not just a leader in goal-setting, but in climate resiliency.  

Last month, the city launched its climate planning efforts by awarding the Brendle Group out of Fort Collins, CO, the contract to develop the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan for the city. RDG Planning and Design, which has a local presence in Des Moines, was chosen as a sub-contractor to provide local expertise and support. As the city looks to move forward with more climate-focused initiatives, we know that we must go beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy and begin to look realistically at what climate change means for the future of our city.  

Des Moines has been rocked by floods, droughts, Derechos, temperature extremes, and more. It is past time to factor climate into every plan we make for our future. The National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent on climate action planning can lead to $6 in savings. These savings are realized through efficiency improvements, resiliency in the face of natural hazards, community health, equity, and more. We must invest in both reducing emissions and planning for climate change that is already here. We can build a more connected, more resilient, and more equitable community by coming together to meet clean energy goals and focusing on building a climate-resilient city. 

Aggressive initiatives have been a hallmark of the work of the Des Moines Citizen’s Task Force on Sustainability since its inception in 2015 and we have no plans to slow our efforts. The Iowa Environmental Council and our partners are committed to seeing this through and helping Des Moines become a clean energy leader in a state already known for clean energy. We encourage all interested people in Des Moines to become involved in this process and to let your elected officials know that passing the resolution was not an end, but a beginning.  

The 24/7 carbon-free electricity trend that started in Des Moines at the city level has caught on across the country, with both Ithaca, NY, and South Lake Tahoe, CA recently passing similar clean energy goals. The city's clean energy framework has set the pace for the development of a community that can come together to focus on climate and build a city that is looking to the future. As more cities step up to the very real challenge of getting to zero-carbon electricity, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, we encourage more people in more communities across Iowa to join this movement. We will be more innovative, more ambitious, and more impactful together.  

About The Author

Matt Ohloff joined the Iowa Environmental Council in December of 2021 as the Clean Communities Manager. Matt brings with him over 15 years of nonprofit grassroots organizing, advocacy, coalition building, campaign development and execution, and more in Iowa and surrounding states on clean energy and agricultural issues. He is passionate about engaging and uniting communities at the local level to create systemic and lasting change that benefits all people. Matt graduated from University of Iowa in 2006 with a B.A. in Political Science and is currently enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at Drake University. He lives in Des Moines with his partner Hanna and their cat Margo.