Des Moines City Councilor Indira Sheumaker.
Des Moines City Councilor Indira Sheumaker. Credit: © Zach Boyden-Holmes / Des Moines Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Iowa clean energy advocates are eager to see the impact of a new voice on the Des Moines City Council in a critical year for the city’s energy future.

Indira Sheumaker, a 27-year-old Black Liberation Movement activist, defeated a two-term incumbent for one of the city’s six council seats. She focused her campaign on racial justice and police reform. She also spoke in support of clean energy.

Supporters expect Sheumaker to take a bolder stand for clean energy and energy equity than her predecessor would have as the city negotiates a new franchise agreement in 2022 with utility MidAmerican Energy.

Sheumaker agreed.

“I’ll be much more aggressive,” she said. “I see the urgency in making big changes now. It’s going to impact my future.”

In January, the Des Moines City Council adopted one of the nation’s most ambitious clean energy targets, aiming to achieve 100% 24/7 carbon-free electricity by 2035. As opposed to net-zero, in which cities or companies can offset daytime power use with cheap nighttime renewable credits, 24/7 involves matching generation with the hours the city actually consumes power.

The goal may be out of reach without buy-in from MidAmerican, which despite being a national leader in wind energy continues to own and operate five coal-fired power plants. The utility’s portfolio is expected to be an issue as the city negotiates a new franchise agreement, a multi-year contract that lays out the terms of the utility doing business in the city. 

Josh Mandelbaum, a clean energy attorney who was reelected to the Des Moines City Council last month, sees the franchise agreement as an opportunity to push MidAmerican to help the city meet its 24/7 clean power goal, something it likely couldn’t do without closing its coal plants. Sheumaker said she supports that strategy.

“I intend to push for that,” Sheumaker said.

Kari Carney, executive director of the environmental nonprofit 1,000 Friends of Iowa, expects Sheumaker to be a champion for clean energy and provide an important perspective on equity in the city’s clean energy transition.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to make sure no one is left behind in the clean energy transition,” Carney said, “how to set up low-income solar, how to create inclusive financing, how to get landlords to do more around energy efficiency.”

Sheumaker is going to make “a huge difference” in the council’s approach to energy issues, said Jess Mazour, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter. She’s frustrated with what she sees as a lack of vision on the city’s energy policy. Traditionally, she said, the city has offered “option A” and “option B” when the council is debating how to move forward.

“Indira is going to introduce ‘Option C’ — an option no one else is talking about.”

Karen Uhlenhuth

Karen spent most of her career reporting for the Kansas City Star, focusing at various times on local and regional news, and features. More recently, she was employed as a researcher and writer for a bioethics center at a children’s hospital in Kansas City. Karen covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.