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Des Moines City Council considering new goals to lower greenhouse gas emissions

Months after Des Moines Councilman Josh Mandelbaum proposed updated emissions reduction goals, City Council will vote on a slightly diminished version of his resolution that pushes the target to achieve 100%, 24/7 carbon-free electricity from 2030 to 2035.

Leaders including the city’s sustainability program manager and Mayor Frank Cownie, who has committed to upholding the Paris Agreement, want Iowa’s capital city to lead on climate action. Mandelbaum said the resolution up for approval Monday still sets a bold vision for the shift from fossil fuels toward renewable sources including wind and solar power.

In addition to pushing the 100%, 24/7 carbon-free deadline back five years, the new resolution also excludes Mandelbaum’s wish that the city policies be leveraged in future negotiations for franchise agreements with investor-owned utility MidAmerican Energy.

Instead, the new version emphasizes that officials will work with utilities, businesses and others to “identify a collaborative approach to achieve the emissions targets and energy goals” set by the city.

Another part of the resolution was deleted between the time the agenda was released Thursday afternoon and republished Friday morning. The document, written by city staff, originally included generic guidance for MidAmerican to continually slash coal from its power generation system – setting a “community-wide goal in line with (MidAmerican’s) vision of achieving 100% equivalent renewable electricity by 2025.” That line is not in the current draft.

MidAmerican spokesperson Tina Hoffman said in an email that the company “sought to clarify” that now-deleted piece because it wasn’t discussed during a work session with stakeholders held late last year.

“When we were asked for feedback on how to align the resolution with our GreenAdvantage program, we worked with (city) staff to provide the revised language that is now slated for council discussion on Monday,” Hoffman wrote to the Register on Friday.

Jeremy Caron, the city’s sustainability program manager, said it was ultimately deleted at the direction of council members. Several of them thought it was unnecessary to include, and wanted “to focus more specifically on the original intent of the resolution, to establish a 24/7 carbon-free goal and set emissions reduction targets,” he said in a statement.

MidAmerican introduced wind energy in Iowa in 2004 and currently generates more than 60% of its electricity from turbines. It predicts it will reach 83% in 2021, and eventually will generate renewable energy equal to 100% of its customers’ annual usage with the completion of a $922 million wind energy project.

Councilman Joe Gatto previously said any climate resolution bearing Mandelbaum’s name creates an appearance of a conflict of interest given his career as a senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Gatto told the Register via email on Friday that he had not yet reviewed the new language.

Councilwoman Linda Westergaard also previously said she would vote against Mandelbaum’s proposal. She did not immediately respond to a Register inquiry on whether she would support the new resolution.

If passed, the city’s greenhouse gas emissions goals will align with recommendations from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The city would aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% between 2010 and 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a group that lobbied council members to support the original proposal, is backing approval of the new resolution.