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BY ANN FOSTER THELEN

In December, the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC) held its 2023 Annual Meeting at the Sheraton West Des Moines Conference Center with more than 350 registered attendees. At the event, which carried the theme “Powerful Connections,” board directors and employees from Iowa’s locally owned electric co-ops received informative updates from the statewide board and staff, in addition to learning about industry trends and best practices from invited speakers.

Leaders share insights and perspectives on future trends

The IAEC Annual Meeting also provided the opportunity for attendees to learn more about the electric industry and future trends that may impact rural Iowa’s economy and quality of life.

IAEC presented several educational sessions, including hearing from the following industry leaders:

  • Author, podcaster and film producer Robert Bryce discussed the physical and barriers to a rapid transition from carbon-based energy sources. He provided a realistic forecast about how our electric grid will change in the coming decades.
  • Kavi Chalwa and Jeff Kappen from Bâton Global discussed disorder in geopolitics and how it will influence economic growth on various scales. They provided insights on how Iowa’s electric cooperatives can best navigate these challenges for organizational success.
  • Mark Tiemeier of the Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO) informed attendees about how changes in the electric generation mix and resources challenge grid operators. Tiemeier is responsible for leading MRO’s annual regional risk assessment.

Editor’s note: The following information is a high-level overview of some points covered during each speaker’s presentation and are the perspectives and opinions of the speakers based on their knowledge and research. Their points address what they believe to be issues or concerns of interest for utilities, including electric cooperatives.


ROBERT BRYCE

Robert Bryce is a Texas-based author, journalist, film producer, and podcaster. The host of the Power Hungry Podcast,  Bryce has been writing about energy, power, innovation and politics for more than 30 years. His articles have appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Time, Austin Chronicle and Sydney Morning Herald.

Key points

  • There are significant land use conflicts when it comes to building more wind, solar and high-voltage transmission. In the past nine years, at least 603 wind and solar projects have been rejected in the U.S.
  • Since 2000, the U.S. has reduced CO2 emissions the most of the world’s six largest economies. Four countries – the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan – have reduced emissions, while India and China have increased emissions. In fact, China has increased more than eight-fold over U.S. emissions.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy says the nation needs a 57% increase in high-voltage transmission. Currently, there are 240,000 miles of high-voltage transmission in the U.S. From 2008 to 2021, 1,700 miles per year were built in the U.S. At this rate, it will take 80 years to meet the forecasted need for high-voltage transmission.
  • Utility product cost inflation is at an all-time high, increasing by 33% since 2020. There is a one- to three-year wait for transformers. Foreign companies dominate the high-power transformer market.
  • Since 2008, when then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mandated renewable energy use, California’s electric rates have grown 3.2 times faster than the rest of the U.S.
  • China dominates the entire downstream electric vehicle battery supply chain.
  • For the first time, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation cited “energy policy” as a threat to the reliability and resilience of the bulk power system.
  • Energy security is national security.

MARK TIEMEIER

Mark Tiemeier, P.E., MBA, is a highly experienced electrical professional with focused expertise in the power systems and regulatory fields. He has extensive knowledge in modeling transmission components. The Midwest Reliability Organization is a non-profit organization dedicated to the reliability and security of the bulk power system in the central region of North America, including parts of both the U.S. and Canada.

Key points

Extreme weather, consumer demand, and changes in technology and generation resources continue to present a rapidly increasing number of challenges to grid planners and operators. Physical and cybersecurity risks also continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace. The top risks to electric reliability are primarily being impacted by the following factors:

  • Conventional, baseload generation (e.g., coal) is being retired and replaced with dispersed, variable generation (e.g., wind and solar), tightening reserve margins.
  • Increasingly bold cybercriminals seek to exploit vulnerabilities in utilities’ networks to disrupt normal operations of the grid.
  • Extreme weather continues to cause generating resource outages, limiting energy supply at the same time as demand increases.
  • Increasing amounts of generating resources that are physically distant from load is straining transmission capacity and limiting import capability.

KAVI CHALWA

Kavi Chalwa has spent the majority of his career as a strategy advisor and consultant to private and public-sector organizations, supporting them with the development and execution of their global growth strategies. Prior to transitioning into an advisory role, Kavi was in the investment banking industry. Kavi’s sector expertise includes energy. His regional expertise is focused on high-growth markets, especially the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Key points

  • Recommends businesses and energy providers pursue an aggressive “Iowa and Me” internationalization strategy by:
  • Diversifying our trade relationships to target countries that align with Iowa’s economic growth clusters and that have high levels of current and projected future alignment to U.S. policies on the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Building relationships with third-country-based investors 
to attract investment into Iowa-based business, 
Iowa-based innovation and Iowa-based research.
  • Flexing Iowa’s muscle to protect and mitigate downside impacts of restrictive policies on Iowa businesses.
  • Flexing Iowa’s muscle to create favorable conditions
for accelerating entry into new growth markets 
for Iowa businesses.
  • Mobilizing the collective power of commodity and association groups to serve as a force multiplier for Iowa businesses.
Ann Foster Thelen is the editor of Iowa Electric Cooperative Living magazine.

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