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Commentary: Renewable energy powers through the cold

Commentary: Renewable energy powers through the cold

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The latest winter blast in Iowa and many parts of the country is a rare extreme weather event resulting in spikes in energy demands. Conditions including loss of access to heat or electricity in the bitter cold for hours or days for millions of individuals and families in Texas are serious and disturbing emergencies. The harsh weather amid a pandemic is creating further hardship for many. Here in Iowa, over 5,000 Iowans lost power during 30-below windchills. 

It is crucial during times of crisis to maintain perspective and focus on the facts.

Some reports regarding the situation in Texas have alluded to renewable energy as part of the problem. Whether the origin of this type of suggestion is politically or otherwise motivated is not important and is better set aside during crisis times. Through my many years of public service as a legislator and utility regulator, I know the importance of acting swiftly to help those with immediate and significant needs. This should be followed by seeking to gain a measured, complete, and clear understanding of the situation. This information, combined with the background knowledge of facts about the industries, technologies, and providers, equips decision-makers with the essential tools needed to mitigate and plan for the issues in the future.

In Iowa, thanks to its bipartisan leadership in renewable energy over many years under the tutelage of several visionary governors, Senator Grassley, and other elected officials, we know first-hand that wind turbines provide homes and businesses with power throughout the cold winter months, including extreme weather conditions. Iowa leads the nation with 53% of its electricity generated by renewable energy.

Libby Jacobs

Libby Jacobs

Like Iowa, cold-weather states such as Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota each generate more than 20% of electricity using renewable energy; the Midwest, known to experience brutally cold weather, comprises prime wind energy states. Preventive measures to keep wind turbines operating in cold weather are standard practice in climates like the Midwest but have not been necessary for Texas, given its typically mild winters.

As we expand our electric grid system and accompanying infrastructure, renewable energy can meet the demand for increased electricity capacity during extreme weather conditions. The build-out of the nation’s transmission lines, much like that of the interstate system, combined with weatherproofing, will be key to weathering the storm more safely in the future. Data on the record-breaking cold snap across the US shows states with greater regional transmission connectivity, such as Iowa, held up better than most, showcasing the importance of solid infrastructure and geographical reach.

At the end of the day, renewable energy performed as scenario modeling expected, and providers are doing all they can to help keep the lights on and keep their communities warm. Renewable energy is a strong resource for Iowa and for the nation, now and into the future.

Libby Jacobs was an Iowa state representative from1995-2008, an Iowa Utilities Board member, 2011-2017, and is president of The Jacobs Group LLC.


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