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By Ann Thelen

Iowa has elevated itself on the national stage as a leader in renewable energy. Energy providers and policymakers are continuously looking ahead with the goal to be prepared to serve the ever-changing needs of consumers.

Released in December 2016, and led by then Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, an Iowa Energy Plan was developed to set state priorities and provide strategic guidance for Iowa’s energy future. The plan addresses current and future energy supply and demand, examines energy policies and programs, and identifies emerging challenges and opportunities. The Iowa Energy Plan was a culmination of a year-long process that consisted of soliciting statewide public input via working groups and community forums and meetings with representatives from state agencies and industry associations and organizations. Iowa’s electric cooperatives were actively involved with development of the plan by serving on the working groups and providing input.

As part of implementation of the Iowa Energy Plan, the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Iowa Energy Office worked with the state’s energy industry stakeholders – including electric cooperatives – to develop Iowa’s first-ever Energy Storage Action Plan, which was released in May.

“The goal of the Iowa Energy Storage Committee was to assemble a diverse mix of Iowa energy stakeholders to discuss how Iowa can best prepare for the future. With the wide-ranging benefits energy storage can provide, the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) wanted to initiate this project to begin to recognize and capture its economic benefits,” says IEDA Director Debi Durham. “This effort resulted in the Iowa Energy Storage Action Plan, which outlines recommendations that maximize this emerging technology and further complement Iowa’s ample renewable energy resources. The collaborative dialog by the committee members identified opportunities for Iowa to continue its leadership in the energy arena – now is the time to take action.”

Storage types and future policies

In developing the plan, the group examined various kinds of energy storage and the potential benefits and challenges. Whether it’s a utility-scale or a residential application, energy storage is part of a proactive discussion related to the delivery of safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy for consumers.

“Energy storage is one more element in the technological advancements taking place in the industry,” says Regi Goodale, director of regulatory affairs for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives and a member of the Iowa Energy Storage Committee. “With any new technology, it’s up to each electric cooperative to assess the potential viability for its members.”

The federal government, through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is also working on policies relating to electric energy storage. Electric cooperatives have been participating in the process of these changes and determining how they might impact cooperative members. As more affordable and effective energy storage options continue to emerge, it’s likely that state and local policies will be developed in addition to federal policies.

Goodale adds that electric cooperatives have been working on energy storage solutions for many years in the form of thermal storage in water heaters. Storing water that’s been heated with electricity helps to reduce peak energy use, which saves on energy costs. Ice storage is another example of thermal energy storage; water is frozen at night when electricity costs are lower, and the thawing ice water is utilized in HVAC units to cool the air for air conditioning. This process provides cost-effective cooling systems. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association uses this technology at its headquarters in Virginia.

In the July issue of Living with Energy in Iowa, Goodale will share more information about electric cooperatives and storage. The full energy storage action plan is available on IEDA’s website at

Recommendations for energy storage solutions

The storage committee collaborated to determine the recommendations on how Iowa should prepare for and embrace energy storage. Through deeper analysis, identify and remove key barriers to storage expansion

IEDA should fund a study to evaluate potential benefits, as well as identify barriers, to expand the storage industry and the application of that storage in Iowa.

Encourage and support storage pilot projects to learn operational and financial gaps

IEDA’s Energy Office will grant special consideration to proposed projects requesting funding that include an energy storage element and will encourage the Iowa Energy Center to take a similar position. This will lay the groundwork for more storage pilot projects

Glean best practices through collaboration with Midwestern states, national storage experts, and Iowa’s colleges and universities

IEDA will continue to collaborate with utilities, Iowa’s colleges and universities, stakeholders and regional partners, such as MISO and the Midwest Governors Association, to maintain an open dialogue on how best to prepare for storage in this evolving market.

Realize the job and economic benefits of storage in Iowa

Policymakers should feel encouraged to advance supportive storage specific policy to further attract and grow the industry to Iowa. As policy advances, leaders must ensure storage costs are allocated fairly to avoid a shift in costs. If dedicated federal storage tax incentives are established, Iowa should consider offering a complementary state incentive like its solar tax incentives.

Update building codes, standards and regulations for acceptance of storage

The Iowa Utilities Board can work with IEDA to ensure the proper storage policy is in place. IEDA should encourage the collaboration of the Iowa Department of Public Safety and other industry stakeholders to place visibility on the building codes, standards and regulations that are restricting the evolution and advancement of storage. Adequate consumer protections must be maintained, and if compliance is still justified, it can be confirmed.

Resiliency benefits of energy storage

IEDA should continue working with industry stakeholders to further investigate and communicate the resiliency benefits of energy storage. Natural disasters and severe weather will always be a threat, and by adding storage, Iowa communities will be better prepared. First responders will have the power required to assist those in need during times of hardship.

Energy storage paired with EV charging stations and other infrastructure

IEDA and the Iowa Department of Transportation should continue to encourage the addition of storage for its peak shaving capabilities when further developing and expanding future EV infrastructure.

Ensure updated safety standards and training for first responders

IEDA will facilitate discussions with applicable stakeholders to evaluate the possibility of policy updates and the training needed by first responders and other safety professionals to handle these new technologies.  

Ann Thelen is the editor of Living with Energy in Iowa magazine.

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