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200 Iowa scientists say power companies must harden infrastructure

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Iowa wind

Iowans are vulnerable to more frequent and longer power outages because of climate change, according to the 2021 Iowa Climate Statement signed by more than 200 Iowa scientists.

Because of that, Iowans need to be prepared to pay higher electricity bills so power companies can harden infrastructure and bury power lines to protect against high winds, floods and extreme cold, lead scientists said in a news conference Wednesday.

“Each of the increasing number of unprecedented climate extremes, such as the derecho in Iowa, the extreme freeze in Texas and wildfires in the western U.S. revealed new and disturbing challenges,“ said Gene Takle, emeritus professor of agronomy at Iowa State University.

Scientists from 34 Iowa universities and colleges signed the statement to emphasize the consensus on climate change and the pressing need to make changes now.

The statement recommended:

Adding electrical transmission capacity, which supports more rapid development of solar and wind energy — needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Burying more power lines.

Bolstering power poles with more supports or guide wires to reduce chances they will fall in a wind or ice storm.

Consider putting hospitals or other critical operations on electrical microgrids that can be maintained separately even if other power is lost.

James McCalley, an electrical and computer engineering professor at ISU, said utilities are eager to make these changes, but they need to know the public supports paying higher energy bills.

“They will pass those costs on to you and me, really,” he said in the news conference. “The population and the community needs to be supportive.”

ITC Midwest, which handles higher-voltage transmission lines for utilities such as Alliant Energy, would see costs multiply by between four and nine times if it buried its lines, President Dusky Terry told The Gazette in August, before the anniversary of the derecho.

Alliant is considering “accelerating our underground plans,” Mayuri Farlinger, Alliant’s regional director of operations, told The Gazette in August. But burying every aboveground power line at once would come at an “exorbitant cost for our customers,” she said.

The new Cardinal-Hickory transmission line proposed for northeast Iowa has met opposition from landowners and others worried how the underground line would affect groundwater and the porous landscape, KWWL reported.


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