A free renewable energy conference will be held Friday, Nov. 9, at the Quad-City Botanical Center, Rock Island, aimed at showing regular people, businesses and agencies how they can reduce their carbon footprint and save money.
The Progressive Action for the Common Good, a nonprofit based in Davenport, and the Eagle View Group of the Sierra Club, a Quad-Cities environmental organization, are sponsoring the conference called Renewable Energy: Greener Earth = Green in Your Pocket against the backdrop of a recent U.N. report that sounded a piercing alarm on climate change.
The conference will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the center, 2525 4th Ave.
Worldwide, investments in renewable technologies amounted to more than $286 billion in 2015, and there are nearly 8 million jobs associated with the renewable energy industry, the groups said in a news release.
The keynote speaker will be David Osterberg, founder of the Iowa Policy Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization established in 2001 to produce research and analysis to engage Iowans in state policy decisions.
Osterberg wants to spread the message that "if you have the right policies in place, then people who want to do good things" will do so, but that Iowa — long a leader in promoting energy-efficiency — is slipping.
A key example, he said, is a law passed this spring by the Republican-controlled Legislature that "drastically cuts the energy efficiency requirements by the investor-owned utilities."
For MidAmerican Energy, the annual budget for the residential electricity program decreased by 67 percent, he said. Nonresidential programs were cut by 47 percent.
"This will not help keep rates low in the long run," Osterberg said, explaining that without strong efficiency, demand will increase, prompting higher production, with the cost of that production passed along to consumers.
"Electric rates in Iowa in 1999 (were) exactly the same as they are today when adjusted for inflation," he said. "The cost stays flat mainly because of efficiency."
He also has a bone to pick with MidAmerican's touting of wind farms and its clean-energy vision. Although wind does produce clean energy, the company has meantime not retired any of its coal-fired plants and hasn't announced plans to do so. Not only is coal dirtier, it is more expensive, he said.
Still, Osterberg is enthusiastic about programs that remain, such as the solar energy tax credit created by the Legislature in 2012 that allows those who install solar arrays to recover up to 15 percent of that cost as a credit on their Iowa income taxes.
In addition, solar arrays cost half as much today as they did five years ago "and the price is still going down," he said.
Together, the tax credit and decreasing cost make it cheaper for regular people, businesses and agencies to install solar panels that generate energy without burning fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
Osterberg will speak at about 9 a.m.
His talk will be followed by a panel discussion on energy policies, moderated by WQAD-TV meteorologist Eric Sorensen, with participants from the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, the Illinois Sierra Club, the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, the Iowa Wind Energy Association and the Solar Trade Association.
Funding for the conference is coming, in part, from the Mark Schwiebert Grant for Environmental Studies, a program established by the former long-time Rock Island mayor to support efforts aimed at addressing climate change.
Schwiebert will make closing remarks at 1:45 p.m.