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By Paritosh Kasotia

A version of this article appeared as a guest column in The Des Moines Register on Earth Day, April 22, 2015

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Earth Day. To commemorate this important milestone, the environmentally conscious lot will probably attend an earth-friendly lecture, switch off our lights and many devices, and talk to our family and friends about the environmental challenges the Earth is facing. This year also marks the 25th year anniversary of the Iowa’s Energy Efficiency Act. Most sustainability professionals preach “think globally, act locally”. On this important day and year, we have to ask ourselves, are we unreservedly doing either of the two parts?

At a Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) event in April, founder Marshall Saunders talked about his early journey to mobilize citizens to take action to minimize the impact of climate change. He recommended actions such as switching light bulbs, improving energy efficiency of homes and buildings, and undertaking other conservation measure and soon realized that these, by all means, are important steps that we all should take but they are just a drop in the bucket to address the colossal issue of climate change.

We have to tackle big issues and the time is now. Less talk, more action. No Excuses, No Games, No political donor favors, No political hackery and No more political football Please!

Iowa has an exceptional opportunity to rethink and redesign its energy sector and establish a statewide comprehensive energy plan that is of the people, by the people, for the people. The timing could not be better. With the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, states have a golden opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and with sheer innovation and leadership, establish new clean energy economic sectors. Iowa has done it in the past with wind and biofuels and with right policies and regulatory structure in place, it can recreate that success story.

The opportunities are boundless. Take for example, solar. Iowa is ranked 16th for technical solar potential in the nation which makes it incredible to grow the solar industry. Progressive utilities such as Farmer’s Electric Cooperative and its General Manager Warren McKenna have shown us the way that it is possible for utilities to adopt a profitable solar model that works. Moreover, Iowans have given up successful careers and founded companies such as Moxie Solar. Mike Howard, a local business owner from Elk Horn is personally invested in the clean energy sector through his ownership of companies that test and calibrate alternative energy devices such as solar PV panels. These Iowans foresee a bright future for the next clean energy economy in Iowa.

Other energy areas such as energy efficiency hold significant promise as well. Iowa’s Energy Bank program was highly successfully in providing low-cost capital for public sector energy efficiency projects. Moreover, the loan program was low risk for Iowa since the loans were given to cities, schools, counties, and universities, which are generally low-risk borrowers. But, as the federal funds dried up and no funds are injected from the state, the program is likely to fall apart, creating a void for our institutions and communities to become leaders in energy efficiency and sustainability.

Options such as solar, financing for energy efficiency, and others like biogas exploration hold significant value to outgrow Iowa’s clean energy economy, reduce emissions, and create a mark for Iowa. We can pass solar tax incentives and promote energy efficiency but this a very piecemeal approach and likely to result in half-baked outcomes. Without a comprehensive energy plan that is vetted through various stakeholders, Iowans will miss an opportunity to innovate and lead in the clean energy economy race that other states are aggressively pursuing.

Iowa has shown that with supportive leadership, progressive policy framework and lenient regulatory structure, it can be the front-runner in the clean energy movement. Iowa was first in the nation to enact the Renewable Portfolio Standard and has the prospect to be the first again.

Keeping the tenets of the Iowa’s Energy Efficiency Act of 1990 in mind of effectively utilizing energy resources and tapping into renewable energy resources, we can collectively catapult to another clean energy movement. Iowans has proven time and time again that when they put their personal will and influence to work, they can shape the future and in this case rise to the occasion and lead the nation in addressing one of the greatest threats facing humanity.

President John F. Kennedy, in his famous speech spoke

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

For most of us, the issue of addressing climate change can be a hard one to grapple with and for sure stirs up enormous passion from all sides but there is no greater satisfaction and pride when we come together and are willing to accept the challenge before us and mobilize our energies, knowledge, skill and the will to overcome it. I am up for it, are you?

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