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DES MOINES, Iowa — It has been one year since the Des Moines City Council unanimously voted to reach 100% carbon-free electricity in the Capital city by 2035.

In the report from January 2021, the city council sites the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as a big motivator to cut greenhouse gases in Des Moines.

Des Moines City Councilmember, Josh Mandelbaum says that each climate report continues to reiterate the need for action. “I think the bottom line is the science demonstrates that there is urgency to act and that doesn’t change from report to report. The urgency is there. Every time a new report comes out it to me highlights just how urgent action is and every moment we wait we make our lift a little bigger and a little harder and action going forward a little more urgent,” said Mandelbaum. 

An increase in global temperature has been linked to more extreme weather events across the globe. In Iowa, record-setting flash floods, and two record-setting derechos have all occurred in the past five years. In that same amount of time, Des Moines has set 18 new record high temperatures and only 3 new record low temperatures. 

Over the past year, the city has made some headway in what this carbon-free future will look like including contracting out the companies who will develop Des Moines’ Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. RDG Planning and Design will provide local expertise while assisting the Brendle Group (of Fort Collins, CO) in crafting this comprehensive climate action plan. Part of this includes looking at the way new buildings are designed. Mandelbaum said, “We know buildings are a major source of energy use and emissions. And so you start measuring how buildings use energy and how they can improve.” 

One way the city hopes to improve buildings is through the electrification of new developments. Heating and cooking are the two primary reasons natural gas is still used in many homes and buildings, but Mandelbaum says technology has improved significantly and that’s no longer necessary.

“Air source heat pumps are a really efficient way to do electric heating and cooling, and you’re starting to see that in a lot of new commercial construction,” said Mandelbaum. Induction stovetops are also being put in over gas stoves which have been shown to emit methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) even when they are not on.

Electric vehicles will also be a focus of the city’s plan. Matt Ohloff is the Clean Communities Manager with the Iowa Environmental Council and says electric vehicle charging infrastructure will be essential for the city to address.

“We need to transition our vehicle fleet to electric to meet our climate goals. But we also need to be mindful about equity considerations and that the charging infrastructure has to be available to all people in all communities. Obviously, it’s easy for somebody with a home in a garage that has an electrical outlet to you know, park their car in the garage and charge their electric vehicle but people in apartment buildings or multifamily units, it’s more difficult,” said Ohloff.

Mandelbaum says the city has new clean energy expectations for developers that hope to build new. “We’ve been asking about EV (electric vehicle) charging stalls upfront, but also EV readiness. One of the big costs in terms of adding chargers to parking stalls is actually going back and wiring them after the fact, but if you do that during construction, it’s about a 10th of the cost to convert those stalls to EV charging,” said Mandelbaum. 

The city is also expanding on solar installations. Fire Station #11 on E 4nd St and Hubbell Avenue and the Municipal Services Center II both have/will have solar on their rooftop, but the city is still looking at adding large amounts of solar on already established buildings across the city, too. 

While the city continues to push forward in its efforts to create a 24/7 carbon-free electric city, you can do a few things at home to contribute, “Do an energy efficiency audit, look at the things that you can do to make your home more efficient. Because it’s going to be easier for us to cover your energy use. If, if there’s less of it, because you’ve insulated your walls. You’re using a programmable thermostat, you’re taking the little steps that you can take and that, that’s going to save you money as well,” said Mandelbaum.