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By Chuck Soderberg

There has been a lot of talk lately about when America will transition to a 100% renewable electric grid. Some utilities, states and cities have announced plans to be fully powered by renewable sources by a specific date. Reducing carbon emissions is also a major focus of the presidential administration. As we talk about a clean energy economy, it’s important to set realistic expectations about the timeline.

Iowa’s locally owned electric cooperatives have been balancing the need for safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible power for decades. Our state’s electric co-ops have long promoted energy efficiency efforts with the belief that the greenest kilowatt-hour is the one you never use. From 2010-2019, Iowa’s electric co-ops invested more than $120 million in energy efficiency measures, saving at least 4.9 billion kilowatt-hours. That’s enough energy to power more than 490,000 homes for a full year.

Incorporating more renewable energy

As economic conditions allow, electric co-ops are incorporating more renewable sources of generation into the energy mix. Moving toward higher renewable percentages will take time as we are also responsible for balancing the needs of safety, reliability and affordability for the member-consumers we serve. While renewable energy continues to grow, it will take decades before that category outpaces natural gas and coal generation nationwide.

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2021, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the share of renewables in America’s electricity generation mix will increase from 21% in 2020 to 42% in 2050. Wind and solar generation are responsible for most of that growth. By 2030, renewables will collectively surpass natural gas to be the predominant source of generation in the U.S.

According to the EIA report, the share of natural gas-fired generation in the U.S. will remain relatively constant through 2050, and the contribution from the coal and nuclear fleets will drop by half. Technological advances in battery storage will make intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar more reliable and dependable, which are the top reasons why natural gas and coal have been stalwart baseload generation sources.

Electric cooperatives are making great strides

Because electric cooperatives are owned and governed by the member-consumers we serve, it’s important to keep you informed on how power supply decisions are made and why. Electric cooperatives are making great strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and incorporating more renewable energy sources into the generation mix. Like all things, change will take time. Be assured that we are moving in the right direction as we transition to a clean energy economy.  

Chuck Soderberg is the executive vice president and general manager of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.


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