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$1.7M R-STEP Grant to Empower Decision Makers’ Renewable Energy Choices

By Esther Crompton and Luke Seaberg

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will receive $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Renewable Energy Siting through the Technical Engagement and Planning program. R-STEP aims to develop and expand statewide initiatives that provide expertise, training and technical resources to local governments and communities as they plan for and evaluate large-scale renewable energy and energy storage projects. ISU Extension and Outreach will work with key partners to develop educational resources, conduct research and implement other strategies to provide decision makers with tools to help them navigate this important subject.

Iowa has long been a leader in renewable energy; however, for decision makers, the path to establishing large-scale renewable energy projects and assessing their impact is fraught with obstacles.

As Luke Seaberg, a community and economic development extension field specialist, explained, “As a home rule state, zoning and other land use laws in Iowa’s municipalities vary widely; what is currently permitted in one county might not be allowed in the next, which can complicate things for all parties involved in working on siting, permitting and planning processes.”

Challenges such as resource conservation policies, navigating legal hurdles and responding to local residents’ concerns can halt large-scale renewable energy project developments.

“There is a real need for more educational programming to ensure that all stakeholders, from local officials to private landowners, have the necessary information to cut through the complexities surrounding large-scale renewable energy projects successfully,” said Seaberg.

The R-STEP program seeks to fulfill this need. “We want to empower communities with the tools and insights necessary to make decisions in a proactive and forward-looking manner," Seaberg explained. "By providing local officials and stakeholders with unbiased, research-based resources, our program aims to deliver Iowans data to help ensure that large-scale renewable energy projects are meeting our state’s needs.”

The initiative to promote informed decision-making in renewable energy leverages the collective strengths of the Center for Rural Affairs, the Electric Power Research Center, the Great Plains Institute, the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Energy Office, the Iowa Environmental Council and ISU Extension and Outreach. These organizations will collaborate, pooling their expertise to provide Iowa's communities with the essential knowledge and resources required to navigate the intricate elements of large-scale renewable energy initiatives.

Seaberg emphasized the significance of the R-STEP initiative, stating, "This work is crucial for the future of renewable energy in Iowa and beyond. By harnessing the strengths of our diverse partners, we're advancing the integration of renewable resources and ensuring decision-makers are equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions that benefit all. Our hope is that by modeling a collaborative approach, we can help set a precedent for how these projects can be implemented nationwide.”

ISU Extension and Outreach is one of six newly selected R-STEP projects that will support state-based entities acting as trusted messengers to provide the capacity and knowledge needed for rapid, equitable expansion of clean energy. The R-STEP program is funded by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office and Wind Energy Technologies Office.

“We are looking forward to working with our partners and communities to develop resources that will keep Iowa at the forefront of renewable energy initiatives and help all Iowans make informed decisions about large-scale renewable energy projects,” said Seaberg.

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