Environmental Groups Propose A Cleaner Power Generation Plan In Iowa

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On November 21, the Iowa Utilities Board received testimony from three joint organizations: Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, and Sierra Club. MidAmerican’s Wind PRIME project would add 2,042 MW of wind power and 50 MW of solar if the company plans to continue operating 5 large coal plants in Iowa. If carried out, this would make MidAmerican the largest carbon polluter in that state.

The environmental groups’ analysis, performed by Synapse Energy Economics and Energy Futures Group, showed that a balanced portfolio of battery storage, solar power, and some wind energy — along with the retirement of all MidAmerican’s Iowa coal plants by 2035 — would result in $120 million in cost savings compared to MidAmerican’s current plan. The current plan focuses almost entirely on new wind resources and continued burning of coal.

The alternative portfolio would provide more clean energy than MidAmerican’s proposed Wind PRIME portfolio. Replacing coal plants with efficient, clean generation and complementary storage alternatives avoids regular operation and maintenance costs as well as the extra capital investments that would be required to maintain MidAmerican’s old coal fleet. In total, this plan would save 25 million tons of carbon emissions compared to MidAmerican’s equivalent of taking more 5 millions cars off the road for a year (more than all the cars in Iowa).

“Diversified clean energy, coupled with storage and a robust transmission system, can provide all of our energy needs in Iowa and at a lower cost,” said Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council. “The status quo has led to escalating uncertainty around extreme weather, high fuel costs, and fears of energy shortages. This is not an acceptable future. MidAmerican must plan and invest now in a truly 100% clean system that works reliably and cost-effectively for Iowans. To ensure this transition delivers reliable and affordable electricity, MidAmerican needs to take steps now to study upgrades to the transmission system and to start development of adequate battery storage and solar.”

Synapse and Energy Futures Groups recently analyzed whether the Wind PRIME project is an effective, transitionary set of resources that would help the utility ween itself off its expensive, polluting coal reliance. The experts did this by using a modeling platform that has been adopted in 17 states to identify reliable low cost electricity portfolios–a method which employs best practices within the utility industry.

Three of MidAmerican’s coal plants, Louisa, Neal 3, and Ottumwa were found to be unprofitable and should stop running as soon as possible. The plan also includes that the rest of the coal plants will retire by 2035 while adding 1,600 MW battery storage by 2030 and 3,700 MW solar panels by 2035. This proposal endorses MidAmerican’s 50 MW solar project along with one third of their wind additions.

Instead of choosing the Wind PRIME mix through quantitative modeling, MidAmerican selected a resource mix based on qualitative goals, such as maximizing energy market revenues and federal tax credits. Devi Glick of Synapse testified that this approach “might be reasonable for a merchant utility, but it is not a reasonable approach for a rate-regulated utility with captive ratepayers.” Ms. Glick continued, “Approving Wind PRIME as-is creates a wind-coal system that does not provide 100 percent clean energy and instead keeps five coal units running for 20 years or more, despite their advanced age, high costs, poor suitability for a high-renewable grid, and the presence of cheaper alternatives.”

Featured image by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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