Voices of 100%: Des Moines Commits to Clean Electricity Around the Clock — Episode 142 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 3 Nov 2021 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Though it’s insulated from sea level rise, the state of Iowa faces many dangerous climate change impacts — which in turn threaten the nation’s food supply. Fortunately, the state is rich in renewable energy potential and eager advocates who hope to harness it.

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell talks with Kari Carney and Josh Mandelbaum. Carney is the executive director of 1000 Friends of Iowa and Mandelbaum is a member of the Des Moines city council. The three discuss Des Moines’s round-the-clock clean electricity resolution, how it differs from traditional clean energy commitments, and the strategies Des Moines will use to reach its goal.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Josh Mandelbaum: Don’t forget about the jobs piece of this: energy efficiency jobs are local jobs. But I can tell the story just in my little slice of Des Moines, I only represent a ward that’s a quarter of the city, but I’ve had just in my four years here, two companies make significant expansions or relocate headquarters. One is Waldinger company and they have an entire energy services division that the work they do is they help other businesses implement energy efficiency and manage their energy better. Those jobs are exactly the type of jobs that policies like this are designed to help create.
John Farrell: Des Moines, Iowa recently joined the over 100 U.S. communities with a 100% clean electricity commitment by 2035. It’s got one edge over its neighbors: no credits, no offsets, no indulgences. In other words, the city’s goal means they want renewable electricity to be supplied 24/7, upping the stakes in a state where as much as 80% of the annual electricity used already comes from wind power. Des Moines City Council Member Josh Mandelbaum and 1000 Friends of Iowa Executive Director Kari Carney joined me in October, 2021 to discuss the city’s new commitment, how MidAmerican Energy’s six coal plants present a potential roadblock, and how they’re pulling the ideas from cities across Iowa to advance their goal. I’m John Farrell, Director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and this is a Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules, a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy. Josh and Kari, welcome to the program.
Kari Carney: Thank you.
Josh Mandelbaum: Thanks for having us.
John Farrell: So I’ll start with you, Kari. I love to ask my guests kind of like, what is it that got you into work around sustainability and climate change? Like what motivated you to work on an issue like a hundred percent carbon free or a hundred percent renewable energy?
Kari Carney: Well, I’ve always cared about it, but the easy answer is the organization that I work for focuses on responsible land use and sustainable development. And we know that land use is a key factor, both in causing climate change, but also could be a key factor in addressing climate change. So our organization voted in 2015 to make climate change one of our key issue areas or key focus areas. And since that time I’ve been working with groups like the Des Moines sustainability task force, either working with existing groups to make them stronger or helping to form new sustainability committees and different local areas with the focus of addressing climate change at the community level.
John Farrell: Josh, what got you into sustainability and climate change? Is this just something that came up when you were on council? Is this something that you’ve cared about and worked on before?
Josh Mandelbaum: Yeah, so actually it’s part of the reason why I ran for council in the first place. So my, my background and my, my day job, I work as an environmental attorney. And so I work on climate solutions, clean energy, clean water, the regulatory framework that that allows climate solutions to be implemented and successful. And one of the things that I saw was a need to take that type of expertise and that type of background and get it into directly into a policy-making position. Little did I know, or maybe I did, did know, but I’ve only been on the council for four years and the extent to which we’re already living climate change, and that has shaped just my short period on the council is pretty remarkable.

So I’d only been on the council for six months when we had a major, and it probably went under the radar, major climate event. We had flash floods on June 30th, 2018. We got the amount of rain that you typically get in the wettest month and a half of the year, we got that amount of rain in about six hours. And so we saw floods in places that you hadn’t seen water before, and we saw the consequences, the impact on people’s lives. And I’d love to say that that’s the only severe weather event that has happened in my short time here on council, but it’s not. Last summer, we had the Derecho with severe winds that took out a significant number of our trees. We had parts of our community that were without power for almost a week. And then this summer, we’re seeing the convergence of climate change and our water quality problems in the state. We’re having a severe drought that’s threatening our water supply at the same time. We’re dealing with ongoing water quality issues that that threaten other sources. And so in my short time on council, we’ve seen the impact of climate change in lots of different ways. And so that’s just provided additional urgency to apply, but I already knew was a problem to get solutions in place.

John Farrell: So Des Moines, like many other cities I think, has had those direct experiences. And it obviously motivated leaders in the city, uh, leaders in the nonprofit community, to get the city to make some substantial commitment to solving the problem. And there are over a hundred cities – I think it’s maybe even over 150 cities now that have made one hundred percent renewable electricity commitments that are similar to Des Moines. All of them kind of differ a little bit in terms of scope and timeline. Maybe it’s 2030. Some of them are even more ambitious. Some of them are like 2040. Some of them cover the electricity for just the city, the municipal operations. Others cover the whole city.

Could either one of you explain kind of what the city has committed to and by what date, so we can kind of place that in the constellation of the other cities that are also trying to act urgently around climate and energy?

Josh Mandelbaum: Yeah, I’m, I’m happy to put that in context. And there are a couple of key pieces that I really want to emphasize. So Des Moines is a 24/7 100% clean electricity standard community-wide and that’s by 2035. But I think the real distinguishing factor in Des Moines ordinance is the 24/7 piece. So we’re not a REC or renewable energy credit system where we’re essentially buying renewable energy credits to offset a hundred percent of our energy. The idea is that we’re matching 24/7, 100% of the electricity that’s being consumed by the community with renewable energy that is generated at those times. And that’s really key in particular because of the situation that we’re in. It would be a lot easier for the city of Des Moines to meet a 100% renewable energy credit based goal. We know we could do that, and we know at the same time, if we met that goal, there would still be significant fossil fuel usage in our electric grid. So this is designed to go above and beyond that and to really push the limits. And I don’t think that there are any other communities that have made that 24/7, a hundred percent commitment, which I sort of view as the next level of clean energy standards for local government.
John Farrell: So one of the things that I’ve found really interesting in doing some of my homework in preparation for this conversation was that according to MidAmerican Energy, which serves the city of Des Moines and much of Iowa, 80% of the city’s electricity supply already comes from wind energy. I was curious, did you feel like that makes the path for Des Moines to get to this 24/7, a hundred percent clean electricity standard easy compared to other cities that have made a similar commitment?
Josh Mandelbaum: So if, if we’d been making a commitment just for renewable energy credit-based system, it would make our path really easy, right? Because that’s what MidAmerican is doing. They’re retiring renewable energy credits on behalf of all their customers. And it’s part of what motivated us to take that next step and why we’re well positioned to take that next step, because MidAmerican has added all of this wind generation. We can really look beyond just a REC based one hundred percent goal and look at how we can start getting to that 24/7, 100%. One of the things that came out during the discussion of our ordinance is MidAmerican has what they call their 100% renewable vision, which is essentially like a lot of these other cities. And when they presented to the Des Moines council at a work session, that was part of our process to getting this ordinance passed. I specifically asked MidAmerican, could you reach your 100% vision and not retire any of your existing coal plants? And they said, yes. So MidAmerican could reach a 100% renewable vision, which is the equivalent of a 100% REC based goal, and still be operating five coal plants in its service territory and be the majority owner of a sixth plant that’s operated by Alliant. So we know to reach our climate goals, we need more than just that 100% REC based goals. That’s why the 24/7 is so critical.
John Farrell: Kari, I want to ask you, first of all, if you have more that you want to add about kind of the interaction with MidAmerican, I’d love to hear it, but I’m curious, obviously with Josh and his role in city council, this is a policy that proposal that came up, he had to consider it. He had to be in these meetings, talking to folks at Mid-America and talking to his constituents. What role did  1,000 Friends of Iowa play? What role were you playing in some of this conversation, getting this in front of the council? And do you think it’s going to be easier because of where MidAmerican is at?
Kari Carney: Sure. So one of the things we did is I mentioned the Des Moines Citizens Task Force on Sustainability is that on earth day 2016, we had realized the city, the mayor talked a lot about climate commitments and we’re still in and so forth, but the city hadn’t really moved forward on much at that point in time. And so there were a number of groups, 1000 Friends of Iowa and others, and residents who got together and said, went to the council on Earth Day. And this was just before Josh’s election. We said, we want two things. We want the city to create a citizen led sustainability committee. And we want the city to start moving forward with a comprehensive climate action plan.

And, you know, from there we really kind of pushed a lot. We started meeting with council members, having coffees with council members, meeting with the mayor. The mayor was in favor of it. So they voted to create our task force officially we’re officially recognized, but we were not, we didn’t have to do the application and apply, but we were officially recognized and kind of went through a process of continuing to push the city to do a number of different things. At the time this first started happening, we didn’t really have the votes on the council, but then that fall of 2016, I think it was in 2016 you were first elected. Is that correct, Josh?

Josh Mandelbaum: 2017.
Kari Carney: 20 17, but we kept pushing. They created it. We worked with the city on getting a star community’s recognition, moving up to a four-star community with the star network and then the 2017 election happened. And at that point in time, we knew we had a couple of new council members and we knew we had a more favorable council on our side. And that’s when we really started pushing for more things. We had met with Josh and some of the other council members. Josh, in particular, we talked about the things that we wanted, which included energy efficiency, the renewable energy resolution and the climate action plan. I know it was sort of a sort of from there. And I think the role we played is we just kept pushing, helped build support across some of the rest of the council through meetings, phone calls. We hosted a webinar that we brought in folks from different cities across the country who had already done renewable energy. We brought some businesses in, there were a number of different things that we did, but really it was kind of the building that grassroots support and continuing to push the rest of the council.

So we went from basically where we thought we had enough votes, but we had two that were probably not going to vote in favor of it to getting a unanimous vote in favor of this resolution. And prior to that, there were several other things that Josh was also involved in – an energy and water benchmarking resolution that was passed or ordinance that was passed. We were able, our sustainability committee was pushed for and got the city to hire its first full-time sustainability manager and other things like that, setting goals. They’re now in the process of hiring a consulting firm to start the process of a climate action plan. So we’ve been kind of there as the grassroots push behind Josh’s efforts on the council.

John Farrell: You know, I’m curious, Kari, you mentioned a number of things like energy and water benchmarking. I’d be interested in hearing more about that, the hiring of a sustainability manager… to either of you, are there other things that the city has already been doing or has done because of the adoption of this ordinance that are kind of helping to move the ball? You also mentioned energy efficiency as one of the priorities, Kari, of some of the groups that have been working on this. We’ve seen, I assume like the energy benchmarking can serve that. Are there other things the city’s done at the local level that are helping to get towards the climate and clean energy goals?
Josh Mandelbaum: I think we’re working in a lot of ways that we hadn’t before. So the energy and water conservation benchmarking ordinance is a big piece of this. You know, we always say you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And benchmarking is the first piece of that and identifying, uh, those big buildings and big users where there’s a lot of savings opportunities and, and working to, to realize those savings is a huge piece of the strategy.

The city has also started doing more from a renewable energy perspective on its own. So it’s done benchmarking is part of pushing the private sector to do benchmarking. We’ve done our own benchmarking. We’re implementing energy efficiency. We’re also adding distributed solar in more buildings. So now one of the things we’ve changed if we were building a new building, which we’ve got a couple that we’ve built in recent years, we added a new fire station. There’s solar on that building. We’re building what we’re calling municipal services center too, which is we hadn’t for almost 50 years replaced the buildings where our vehicles are stored. We’re adding solar there. And we’re even looking at a, a larger array in a neighboring field or plot of land that the city owns because that’s also going to help as the city looks to transition to electric vehicles, we’ll be providing our own renewable energy for some of those electric vehicles, but it goes beyond that. We’re also thinking now for the first time and requiring, we provide economic development incentives, that any entity that’s getting those incentives, be energy efficiency standards and go above and beyond our code and build sustainably for the future. So we’re starting to take a lot of different steps. There’s a lot more that the city needs to do, but we’ve been incorporating that enterprise wide. And I think it’s a big change from the way the city operated even four years ago.

Kari Carney: Yeah. And there are a few other things that the task force has been talking about and working with the sustainability manager on that will hopefully be coming to the council. You know, we’ve kind of figuring it out and then we’ll start talking to council members about it, but we are moving, moving forward. Well, 1000 Friends of Iowa and a couple other groups are moving forward with a solar group buy that’s county-wide. Um, but we have kind of some tentative commitments for the city of Des Moines to support that, but it has not yet been brought up to the council. Um, we have other cities that have already voted to support it. So that’s good in the county. We are also figuring out some way to do an inclusive financing project for energy efficiency and solar for lower income folks. The city of Dubuque has done a pilot project with solar for 10 low-income homes in the city of Dubuque. And they’ve just got money to do 20 more homes. And so we’ve got an event coming up with them, learn how they’re doing it. And then also bringing in some other inclusive finance or places that have done inclusive financing that we’re hoping to be able to come back with Josh and others on the council to find some champions to help support some of this inclusive financing programs or project as well for the city.
John Farrell: I should mention ILSR has a report on our website about inclusive financing, for folks who are looking for kind of a, one-on-one. A group called Community Power that I also work with in Minnesota has a really nice like minute and a half long video if people want to dive into what it means, but it’s obviously a very useful tool for helping folks access potentially distributed solar, as well as energy efficiency. It actually segways kind of nicely into my next question. Do you have this renewable energy goal for the city? I really appreciate you providing the detail about that 24 7 element of it, because it really highlights for me the tension that could exist here and has for many cities, you know, Des Moines doesn’t own its utility company, it’s electric utility that’s MidAmerican energy. They make their own decisions. As you said, they’re a hundred percent renewable energy vision is we’re going to keep five coal plants running. And one for the city is no, we actually want all of our electrons to come from renewable resources. When inclusive financing is another one of those policies you need to often have the utilities cooperation, have there been good conversations with MidAmerican? Are things progressing, is MidAmerican interested in trying to meet the city’s vision? How are things playing out with that conversation?
Josh Mandelbaum: Well, I think that conversation is, is still pretty, pretty early on. Candidly there a, you know, I think it started out with maybe some, some hiccups. It mean that they actually, you know, when MidAmerican came to our ORC session in front of the council, they tried to portray this as sort of a sky is falling, that it would make our energy a lot more expensive and sort of the same type of things that you would have heard 15 years ago about adding the amount of wind generation that we had. You know, it’s going to challenge her liability. It’ll be incredibly expensive. It’s, it’s impossible. And we know the way things have played out that that has not been the case.

And so I have confidence that we can innovate and that we can continue to push forward, but we’re going to have to be pushing the utility. They don’t necessarily want to do it on their own, but we also know that they’re capable of doing it. They’ve figured out how to do it with wind. We’ve got tremendous opportunity. We’re starting to see solar added as a compliment to wind. We’re starting to see additional talk of battery storage. And then you have to think about the other range of things from a distributed perspective, the energy efficiency, the demand response. What do we do all of a sudden, as we get more electric vehicles, and that provides an even greater opportunity with vehicle to grid technology and thinking about all of those pieces? So it’s all coming together, but we’re going to need to keep pushing our utility to be a partner in all of this. And while we don’t control Mid-American, we do have connections to them. I mean, we do have a franchise agreement and I expect this to be at least a part of the discussion as our franchise agreement is up for renewal next year. And I think there will continue to be conversations with MidAmerican and there will continue to be tensions with MidAmerican, but we recognize the best path forward is to have the cooperation of the utility, but there are also solutions that we can pursue outside of that too.

John Farrell: Yeah, I should mention being from Minneapolis that we had an interesting conversation with the utility around our franchise renewal back in 2013 and 2014, that helped to motivate some collaboration. It’s always useful to have that hanging over a little bit as a both carrot and a stick. Kari, I’m kind of curious from you, you mentioned Dubuque as a city that you’ve looked at for some leadership around some of these different issues like solar for low-income homes. We covered on this podcast and interviewed folks from Dubuque a few couple of years ago when they were looking at municipalization. So they were trying to break free from being served by Alliant energy and to have a city owned utility. And as I recall, their ballot initiative came within four votes of passing when that was on the ballot. Are there other things like that that you feel like you’re bringing in learning from other cities in Iowa that’s going to be useful and how you might get MidAmerican to help the city meet that 24/7 target?
Kari Carney: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the areas where there’s energy districts, there’s a lot of models of things that we can draw from and bring in here from cities in Iowa. But there’s also things from we’ve been looking at what’s happened in Minnesota, Minnesota, Xcel energy was actually on this webinar that we did supporting the 100% renewable energy and talked a little bit about what happened in Minneapolis and that area. So that was kind of nice to have them on there speaking from a utility perspective. So one of the other things that’s happening that 1000 Friends of Iowa was involved in is that we’re in the process of starting a program that’s similar to Green Step Cities in Minnesota or Green Tier Legacy in Wisconsin, that pilot is kicking off this month. We’ve got the University of Northern Iowa is going to be housing the program. They’ve got money now that they have a staff person to run. There’s been about 12 cities and counties and a few state agencies who’ve been involved in helping to make that happen. And that really pulls together best practices for communities and does a rating system similar to, well, similar to what Green Step Cities and Green Tier Legacy does.

But we’re also looking at on many ways now the work we’ve been doing in Des Moines, we’ve been using that as a model in some of the other communities, especially in the greater Metro area. So we now have both Urbandale and Johnston who’ve been looking at what’s happened here in Des Moines and are starting to move that direction as well. Both Urbandale and Johnston are starting on their first greenhouse gas emissions inventories that they haven’t done before the Polk county, just, we were able to get them to pass a climate resolution two weeks ago. And part of that, they’re going to be doing an energy audit into greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and kind of putting together some kind of a document to bring back to the supervisors with the goal of hiring a sustainability manager for the county as well. So we’re definitely looking at other areas to bring in ideas. And I think inclusive financing right now is one of the biggest ones, but we’re also using what Des Moines has done as an example now for around the state.

John Farrell: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I’ll ask how equity is being incorporated into Des Moines clean energy goals, whether the city is partnering with other customers and MidAmerican energy, and what advice Kari and Josh have for leaders of other cities. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules, Voices of 100% podcast with Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum and 1000 Friends of Iowa Executive Director Kari Carney.

 

Hey, thanks for listening to Local Energy Rules. If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously a fan and we could use your help for just two minutes. As you’ve probably noticed, we don’t have any corporate sponsors or ads for any of our podcasts. The reason is that our mission at ILSR is to reinvigorate democracy by decentralizing economic power. Instead, we rely on you, our listeners. Your donations not only underwrite this podcast, but also help us produce all of the research and resources that we make available on our website and all of the technical assistance we provide to grassroots organizations. Every year ILSR’s small staff helps hundreds of communities challenge monopoly power directly and rebuild their local economies. So please take a minute and go to ilsr.org and click on the donate button. And if making a donation isn’t something you can do, please consider helping us in other ways. You can help other folks find this podcast by telling them about it, or by giving it a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. The more ratings from listeners like you, the more folks can find this and ILSR’s other podcasts, Community Broadband Bits and Building Local Power. Thanks again for listening. Now, back to the program.

John Farrell: So one question I have for both of you is a lot of other cities across the country have been pursuing these hundred percent clean electricity goals. You know, they’ve also been focused on equity, such as assuring energy affordability for low-income residents or ensuring that Native American or Black populations that have lived near polluting power plants have a chance to benefit more from the transition. What is it that’s on your minds for Des Moines to do, to make sure that it’s shift to 100% renewable electricity is equitable?
Josh Mandelbaum: Yeah, so, you know, none of those five, well, five, maybe six power plants are located in Des Moines, thankfully. So we don’t have the direct pollution that has impacted communities in the way it has in some others. But I think one of the key pieces to the equitable side of this is really driving energy efficiency as a piece of the solution. We know you can’t have affordable housing without energy efficiency. For example, you know that the households that often are most cost burden from a rent and housing perspective, the utilities are less efficient and play a bigger role. And if we are going to tackle our greenhouse gas emission goals, we need to reduce our energy use and we need to implement energy efficiency across the board and make a particular emphasis on low-income households, communities of color that have traditionally not had the same amount of access to the energy efficiency solutions that are out there. I’d also add, it would be great to get some community solar. That’s again, another area where we need partnership from our utility, just given the existing legal framework in the state, but anything that happens from a community solar perspective, there needs to be a low-income access perspective there. And that’s where it’s great to have partners pursuing group buys and other, other options as well. And trying to figure out the access issues as well.
Kari Carney: Yeah. One of the things we just finished up a Warren county group, I, that we did last year, and one of the things we were able to do through that group by is that partnering with the installer Midwest Renewable Energy, and then Hammond Climate Solutions in California, we were at, we were able to raise money to put up a solar array on a new homeless facility. It was an old motel that was bought and renovated to create housing for housing insecure. And we’re hoping to find a project in Des Moines to do the same thing with our group buy, and as I mentioned, we’re looking into the inclusive financing and how the city of Dubuque funded solar for low-income properties. We’ve also had conversations with the community college here, a couple of conversations about, you know, they’re interested in doing solar arrays and we’ve talked a little bit about like how that can benefit the neighborhood where the school’s at. And also when we talked about the energy and water benchmarking ordinance, one of the pieces that one of the entities that’s has to do the benchmarking is multifamily housing units. So that was another piece that we’ve really looked into is that, especially for renters who can’t take advantage of energy efficiency programs, how do we make sure that they’re benefiting and what can we use to incentivize landlords? So the benchmarking that was a key piece to make sure that multifamily residential buildings had to do the energy and water benchmarking.
John Farrell: I’m curious, one of the things I thought was really interesting in a recent interview we did with Helena, Montana is that they and Billings, and I think one other city in the state that have all made similar one hundred percent commitments have kind of a collaborative effort in their conversations with Northwestern Energy, the utility that’s in common among them. Is Des Moines working with other cities that are MidAmerican customers or just other cities in general on strategies to reach that a hundred percent goal?
Josh Mandelbaum: Yeah, we’re starting down that path. And one of the things that we know is Des Moines is over 10% of MidAmerican’s retail customers. And when you look community-wide and then you, when you start adding other large communities, you’re exactly right. That’s a much more powerful voice. And we know, for example, the 24/7 piece, we actually kind of borrowed from Google, who, who looked at what they were doing, and they realized that they could buy RECs, but they still weren’t accomplishing everything. They were hoping from getting, getting clean energy and cleaning the grid. And they are also a large MidAmerican customer. So the goal is, is that we’re going to hopefully be able to partner with a wide array of customers and other cities, the communities that Kari talked about, you know, I’ve spoken on multiple panels since we passed our ordinance and to try and help other communities keep working towards a similar goal so that we can work together and use our collective voice and collective power to have even more influence over the direction that our local utility heads.
Kari Carney: Yeah. I think that the different communities that we’ve been starting to work with on this, we’ve had a couple of times where we’ve had pulled them all together and met jointly. So definitely this is something they’re all interested in. And it’s also why we’ve started working at the county level as well, because we know that what we’ve heard in Urbandale and Johnston and West Des Moines is ‘what has Des Moines done?’ Yes, if they’ve done it, we’ll look into it. So we know Des Moines is definitely the leader, but others, others are interested in doing it. They just don’t want to be the first.
John Farrell: I feel like I should, Kari, because you’re already sort of answering my wrap-up question here I’m going to toss it to you first. What advice do you have for other cities that are trying to achieve similarly ambitious, clean energy goals? It seems like one of them is find someone else that’s done at first. What else would you give in terms of advice to other cities that are thinking about following what Des Moines has done?
Kari Carney: You know, I think one of the reasons why one of the things that’s really worked well is for Des Moines. I think there’s been a formula you’ve had a really committed group of non-profits and residents who really care about this. And then you also have champions on the city council. So we’ve worked really hard. I mean, Josh’s was already there in the first place, but we’ve worked really hard to build relationships with our city council members and really try to bring out the champions. And I think kind of that combination of working together, finding common ground and really, I don’t, I wouldn’t, I don’t think we’ve been adversarial, but we’ve, we keep pushing it. And so I think that helps a lot, but one of the things, I guess my best advice is just do it. We’ve been seeing communities that are doing this are thriving and this sustainability works. This is one of the key pieces that helps turn cities around and helps make them resilient and sustainable. So they should talk to other cities. They should find out what other people are doing. They should involve their residents and just do it.
John Farrell: What would you say, you’re a member of city council. How should other cities, uh, what advice can they get from your experience on a council in a city that’s made an ambitious goal like this?
Josh Mandelbaum: Yeah, well, I mean, I think Kari really hit the nail on the head. I mean, I think it’s important to identify and cultivate champions, you know, there’s going to be pushback. And so having someone who is willing to dig into the material and really understand the issue so that they’re going to hold strong when there, when there’s pushback is a really important piece of this. Having that grassroots set of allies, there’s a large number of people in the public who are willing to call and email elected officials on this issue, organizing those folks so that your elected officials hear about it really has an impact. And that’s an important piece of this as well, because that really supports the council and helps those champions stay strong when they’re, when they’re getting pushed back on, on the other side.

The other thing is use the experience that other communities have had there often are going to be people who are willing to go and talk. And we did some of that, the nonprofit partners, that advocacy partners organized a panel where, where they had different pieces of what other communities were doing from a sustainability perspective, it wasn’t necessarily the 24/7 one hundred percent, but it was all things that would need to be part of our broader package of solutions and getting that in front of policymakers so that they understood the range of things that were possible is a really helpful piece of this. So use what others have done as an education piece.

And then lastly, don’t forget about the jobs piece of this. Energy efficiency jobs, or local jobs, but I can tell the story just in my little slice of Des Moines, I only represent a ward that’s a quarter of the city, but I’ve had just in my four years here, two companies make significant expansions or relocate headquarters. One is Waldinger company and they have an entire energy services division that the work they do is they help other businesses implement energy efficiency and manage their energy better. Those jobs are exactly the type of jobs that policies like this are designed to help create. And then there’s another company [inaudible] product. They make wind turbine components. They are part of the clean energy economy. So even if those wind turbines are not in Des Moines proper, we have people in my district working on building components for those turbines that are part of the supply chain, because we are driving additional, renewable energy with our policy. We’re also creating local jobs. And that’s an important piece of the story that it’s floating around out there. But we don’t always take advantage of telling that I’ll give another just small example because I happened to be up for reelection. So I’m knocking a lot of doors. And the other weekend I was out knocking doors and there was a proud union sign on the door and which is always, uh, a nice conversation leading. And so I was asking this person what he did, uh, what union he was a part of and what, what type of projects he built. And he was an operating engineer and he’s retired now, but the last few years of his career, he was operating cranes building wind turbines, lifts in Des Moines. Those turbines are all over the state, but he was helping build that. And we know that people go to work and you’re building our economy by implementing these policies too. And we need to tell that piece of the story as well.

John Farrell: Well Josh and Kari, thank you so much for joining me to talk about Des Moines’s one hundred percent renewable electricity, 24/7 commitment. I shouldn’t forget that as it being an important component to what you’re doing and thank you both for the work that you’re doing to help push the city forward on that call.
Josh Mandelbaum: Thanks for the conversation.
Kari Carney: Thank you.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules with Des Moines City Council member Josh Mandelbaum and 1000 Friends of Iowa Executive Director Kari Carney discussing the city’s recently adopted 24/7, 100% clean electricity pledge. On the show page, look for links to the city’s policy announcement, the citizens task force on sustainability, the city’s energy and water benchmarking ordinance, and the 1000 Friends of Iowa website. On ILSR’s website, you can find several stories and podcasts about Minneapolis and its use of the franchise contract to build leverage against its electric and gas utilities, as well as an overview of inclusive energy financing mentioned several times during our conversation. You can also find ILSR’s Community Power Map detailing the state policies that give cities more flexibility and choice over their energy sources, as well as the Community Power Toolkit and interactive collection of stories of how cities have pursued their clean energy goals. Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy with editing provided by audio engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.


Iowa Faces Climate Impacts, Too

Kari Carney is the Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Iowa, a non-profit organization “engaging local residents around responsible and equitable land use.” Part of responsible land use, says Carney, is considering its impact on the climate. Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, was elected to Des Moines City Council in 2017. Mandelbaum describes how he has already seen climate change impacts during his term on the council: flash flooding in 2018, a derecho storm in 2020, and a severe drought in 2021.

Damage from the derecho storm that swept Iowa 2020. Photo from Phil Roeder via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In 2021, Mandelbaum and his fellow council members unanimously passed a resolution for 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. Carney was among many advocates pushing for this resolution. The Des Moines resolution has one crucial clause: the electricity will come from renewable resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Des Moines Citizens Task Force on Sustainability

On Earth Day of 2016, 1000 Friends of Iowa and others began lobbying for the creation of the Citizens Task Force on Sustainability. After meeting with members of the council and gaining the mayor’s support, the city approved the task force. Carney says that this step, and the grassroots mobilization and relationship building it took to accomplish it, got the ball rolling for the clean energy resolution.

There were a number of different things that we did, but really it was building that grassroots support and continuing to push the rest of the council.

— Kari Carney

After Mandelbaum and others were elected to the city council in 2017, advocates pushed for what would become the 24/7 clean electricity resolution.

A New Kind of City Resolution

Des Moines’s 24/7 compact, also adopted by Ithaca, New York, was modeled after a similar pledge made by Google. Specifying a round-the-clock clean energy supply will lead to more local clean energy development, since the city cannot turn to renewable energy credits.

80 percent of Des Moines’s electricity, supplied by MidAmerican Energy, already comes from wind. However, MidAmerican greens some of its energy supply with renewable energy credits — which does not align with the Des Moines resolution. MidAmerican also, despite its 100% renewable energy vision, has no plans to retire its five coal plants. The city must therefore find a way to go above and beyond what the utility is willing to do.

I have confidence that we can innovate and that we can continue to push forward, but we’re going to have to be pushing the utility. They don’t necessarily want to do it on their own, but we also know that they’re capable of doing it.

— Josh Mandelbaum

MidAmerican’s franchise agreement with Des Moines is up for renewal next year, says Mandelbaum, which gives the city some bargaining power.

The city’s first steps toward its goal have been benchmarking current energy and water use and hiring a sustainability director. Des Moines has also added solar to several new buildings, including a new fire station.

Energy Efficiency and Solar Offer an Avenue to Advance Equity

Both Carney and Mandelbaum emphasize the importance of energy efficiency in meeting Des Moines’s ambitious goal. Not only does energy efficiency have value in carbon reduction, but it makes electric bills more affordable and buildings more comfortable.

Energy efficiency is imperative for low-income residential customers, who face the greatest energy burden (portion of their income spent on energy). This is a challenge, since these same customers might not be able to afford the upfront costs of efficiency upgrades. Inclusive financing, sometimes called Pay As You Save, is one solution to this challenge.

Through inclusive financing, the utility pays for the efficiency improvement and the customer pays the utility back through their bill savings. Inclusive financing works for rental properties, as well, since the payments stay with the property.

You can’t have affordable housing without energy efficiency.

— Josh Mandelbaum

Inclusive financing framework can also be used to install solar power.

Leading the Way for Iowa

Mandelbaum and Carney both describe cities and counties they have contacted or collaborated with. Since Des Moines makes up 10% of MidAmerican Energy’s customer base, says Mandelbaum, banding together with other MidAmerican customers will amplify the city’s voice.


Listen to the previous Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules: A Renewable City Coalition Grows in Western Montana.


Carney explains how other Iowa cities look to Des Moines as an example. She continues her outreach across the state, but accepts that Des Moines will pioneer the way for Iowa. Still, there are examples across the country that inspire Carney and other advocates — including the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership.

We know Des Moines is definitely the leader, but others are interested in doing it. They just don’t want to be the first.

— Kari Carney

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how towns and cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 32nd episode of our special  Voices of 100%series, and episode 142 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured Photo Credit: Pexels via Pixabay

Facebooktwitterredditmail
Follow Maria McCoy:
Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a research associate with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.