Iowa Pipeline Walk: Day 22

Thursday, March 26, 2015 – Ames, Iowa
{For the latest Iowa Pipeline Walk route and schedule detail, click here.}

{Ed talks about the Pipeline Walk with State Rep. Dan Kelley on Monday, March 30 at 11:00 a.m. on KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines) and online. Also, Jess Mazour with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement joins Dan to discuss clean-water legislation. The program will re-broadcast Wednesday on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 4:00 p.m. and KPVL 89.1 FM (Postville) at 7:00 p.m.}

My route skirts the south and west side of Ames today. I am fortunate to have an engaged and enthusiastic walking companion – Dave Brotherson – for the duration of the trek. Dave’s been excited about solar lately, telling me that “solar has long been a hobby project, a do-it-yourself deal. But things are finally coming together.”Every time we walk by a barn with a southern exposure, Dave becomes animated. “Look! There’s no reason that farmer couldn’t be making money off his roof right now, even as he’s saving money on electricity.”
Dave Brotherson

Dave Brotherson

The cost of solar panels is plummeting, and more and more entrepreneurs are stepping up to make home installation affordable for the average person.

And for now, there are a variety of public incentives, including a federal tax credit of 30% and a state credit of 18%. In Dave’s case, the City of Ames also offers a solar utility rebate of $500 per kilowatt hour.We discuss how these subsidies may be a rub for the hard-core free-market types. Dave thinks the subsidies will only be necessary until renewable energy is solidly established – and that’s coming fast.”The problem is, these credits will expire in two years unless action is taken,” says Dave. “And people and businesses can’t comfortably make the investment with federal and state government all over the board on whether the credits are on or off.”Of course, subsidies for fossil fuels continue to roll out of the public trough at, by some estimates, 25 times what governments currently spend to incentivize wind and solar. In an ideal world, we’ll eventually do away with all such subsidies, the market will sort it out, and fossil fuels will no longer even be remotely competitive with renewable energy.

Dave and his wife have been crunching the numbers carefully, and are just getting started on the actual work. “We expect our system to cost around $20,000,” said Dave. “With the incentive programs, it will end up costing us around $8,000. We’ll retire the loan in the next 7-8 years, paying $100 per month – which is what we currently pay for electricity. After that, we’ll pay zero for our power.”

“And we’ll reduce the coal/gas pollution generated on our behalf to just above zero, which is good for all of us,” concluded Dave.

Steaming compost at ISU farm.

Steaming compost at ISU farm.

Dave also plans to buy an electric car, which of course will be charged by the solar panels.

Dave’s spunk for solar puts a spring in my stride, and the day’s miles roll along quickly. In the midst of working to stop this oil pipeline, it’s helpful to be reminded how far we’ve come on several critical fronts.

As we walk through ISU’s farms, Dave insists that, in the very near future, the impressive rows of compost currently being turned by an oil-powered machine will be turned by an environmentally friendly, home grown, and less expensive alternative fuel.

– Ed Fallon