Climate group urges beefier electric grid

Iowa scientists recommend shoring up the electrical grid to protect residents from outages caused by extreme weather. (Photo via Pxhere)

By Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Iowa should prioritize updates to its electrical power grid in the coming years to protect residents from outages caused by devastating storms and to meet increased demands that will follow the rise of electric vehicles.

That is the latest recommendation from a group of more than 200 university and college professors and researchers who released their annual Iowa Climate Statement on Wednesday.


Scientists across the state first published their annual warnings about climate change in 2011 and urged local, state and national elected leaders to take steps to stem a warming global climate. That includes reducing the amount of greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane, most notably — in the atmosphere.

In recent years, the climate statements have increasingly included suggestions to mitigate the already apparent effects of climate change: significant rainfall events, devastating floods, hotter heat waves and more-pronounced droughts.

“We are trying to identify the things we need to do to adapt to the climate regime,” said David Courard-Hauri, chairman of environmental science and sustainability at Drake University. “But it’s also true that the best way to avoid those damages is to find carbon mitigation.”


The group cited the August 2020 derecho that increased in strength as it swept across a broad swath of the state. The damage was particularly severe in Cedar Rapids — the second-largest city in the state — where 140-mph winds knocked out power to most of the city for days.

“We don’t know when, where, or in what form such an extreme event could occur again,” said Gene Takle, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University. “But a widespread, protracted power outage has happened now once in Iowa, and the continuing accumulation of heat and moisture in the atmosphere due to increases in greenhouse gases is increasing the likelihood of such an event recurring.”

Scientists: Bury power lines, fortify structures


The state’s utility companies should bury electrical lines when possible and fortify the structures that support high-voltage transmission lines to help prevent such outages, the climate group said. Expanding the long-distance transmission capacity would also support increased wind and solar energy production and power redundancy.

Alliant Energy, one of the state’s largest suppliers of electricity, is gradually moving overhead power lines underground and plans to install solar arrays and battery storage throughout its service area to help increase the reliability of its power grid.

“We prepare every day in anticipation of the next extreme weather event,” said Morgan Hawk, an Alliant spokesperson.


The company plans to transition from coal power production over the next two decades in favor of wind, solar and natural gas.

The climate group also suggested businesses and facilities that provide essential services — such as hospitals and grocery stores — should have alternate power sources in case of long-term outages.

In 2018, the group said new residential and commercial buildings should be constructed to withstand heavier rainfall and more-saturated soil and to reduce the amount of energy it takes to cool and heat them.

The group has warned about a variety of potential problems that might accompany rising temperatures, including:

— Damage from more-severe storms and flooding

— Stress to crops and livestock from heat waves and drought

— Soil erosion


— Diminished water quality

— More airborne allergens

— More varieties of mosquitoes and ticks and a wider variety of diseases they can transmit

“People do realize this is a serious problem and that we will need to act,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. “Clearly, while good things are happening, including renewable energy like wind in Iowa, it’s not happening fast enough.”

The two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference is set to begin Oct. 31 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Government representatives from across the world and others will gather to discuss policies to further the 2015 Paris Agreement, with an ultimate goal of capping the rise of global temperatures this century at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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