Ames Climate Action Plan draft unveiled


Jacob Rice

Ames City Council meeting on Jan. 24.

The Ames City Council was presented a draft of a Climate Action Plan from which outlined expenditures from 2023 to 2050 for the $3.2 billion plan, and estimated Ames could receive $770 million from the Inflation Reduction Act.

The draft was presented the draft by their consultant Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG). According to SSG model analyst Erik Frenette, the council may not have jurisdiction over every component of the plan, which is for Ames as an entire community, including Iowa State.

“The main idea here is that there is urgency,” Frenette said. “There was urgency in 2021 when we were looking at these actions and now it’s only become more urgent with time. Start in the next three years, obviously if it’s possible to start faster than that then definitely that will help out with achieving the plan.”

The plan includes six big moves to reduce emissions: heat pumps and retrofits, renewable energy generation, net zero new construction, reducing vehicle emissions, increasing active transportation and transit use and reducing waste emissions.

Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin said it seemed presumptuous that a city like Ames would receive $770 million from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“This is not going to be distributed in a nice even fashion,” Gartin said. “When you look at other federal programs that have [been] distributed, Iowa is one of the lowest states in terms of recipients for government programs.”

The Director of SSG, Yuill Herbert, said Ames could have a better opportunity to get IRA funding because it is the first municipality in the country to estimate IRA funding into their climate action plans.

Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher said the IRA funding is aspirational.

“If we don’t aspire to it we certainly aren’t going to get it and you have to apply if you want that money,” Betcher said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me to make a lower estimate on what’s possible, but we have to be conscious of the fact that the likelihood that we’ll get that is probably not great.”

Gartin said net-zero houses, as the plan calls for, would make houses more expensive in Ames.

“Those are real numbers that people who to have to choose between […]  [living] in Huxley, [Iowa], who’s already eating our lunch in terms of construction or Ankeny, [Iowa], that’s going to make our houses that much more expensive,” Gartin said.

Mayor John Haila added to Gartin’s point, saying the energy savings do not offset the cost.

“As we’re looking at the fact that inflation is just knocking our socks off, the prices of housing and then to consider an additional [cost] on top of that if that was required by zoning, that could be a real deal breaker and may just kill future housing,” Haila said.

Additionally, the plan calls for a zero-emission CyRide fleet which is not currently planned, and about 20% of the surface area of Ames to have solar panels. Ames Electric Director Donald Kom said city staff were exploring ways to have more solar panels in the city, like on city buildings or over parking lots.

City Manager Steve Schainker said there will be a sticker shock, adding that Ames has residents who can not afford it.

“Our job is to keep that cost as little as possible in terms of incrementally each year and that’s going to be a challenge, there’s no doubt about it,” Schainker said. “That’s why the council says it’s aspirational.”

At-large Rep. Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen said the city can catalog funding sources other than taxpayers and the city.

“It’s not the city that is bearing the full cost of this, it is not our taxpayers, they will bear some cost for sure […] but a lot of our role is going to be connecting people with resources and connecting people with funding that exists out there from other sources,” Beatty-Hansen said.

Schainker said the council is not committing to everything in this plan.

“You gave [the consultants] the goal, they have now told you how you get there [and] that’s if you did everything,” Schainker said. “They’ve laid out in the report that every year we have to come up and [the council] has to approve an annual action plan and that’s where you’ll start getting the expenditures and which programs you want.”

Haila also said that Iowa State has a big role in the plan and that they are also working on the plan.

One of the people working on the plan from Iowa State, Bill Gutowski, a professor in geological and atmospheric sciences, said in an interview with the Daily that there is an obligation to promote solutions to climate change.

“There’s the overall need to get toward net-zero emissions, and some places can afford to do it more than others, some places have also contributed more than others,” Gutowski said. “I would say things like this are a way of showing leadership and process and trying to ideally inspire others to do similar and ultimately increase the pressure to make sure it does happen.”

Starting Wednesday, the full plan and presentation from SSG will be available on the Ames city website and members of the public can send feedback to [email protected]. The council will revisit the plan in late May or early June.

Additional Measures

The council passed a measure directing city staff to draft an ordinance allowing the collection of charges from geothermal users and to set rules delineating ownership of geothermal service connections. The move comes as the city plans for the Baker subdivision to be fully serviced by geothermal wells.