Environmental groups propose alternative to MidAmerican's Wind PRIME


DES MOINES, Iowa, Nov. 22, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — On November 21, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, and Sierra Club filed joint testimony in MidAmerican’s Wind PRIME docket before the Iowa Utilities Board. MidAmerican’s Wind PRIME project, which would add 2,042 MW of wind and 50 MW of solar, relies on the company’s plans to continue operating 5 large coal-burning power plants in Iowa. These coal plants make MidAmerican the single largest carbon polluter in the state.

The testimony includes independent technical modeling analysis of MidAmerican’s generating fleet performed by Synapse Energy Economics and Energy Futures Group on behalf of the environmental groups. This analysis shows a balanced, reliable portfolio that adds a mix of battery storage, solar, and some wind, while retiring all of MidAmerican’s Iowa coal plants by 2035, delivers $120 million in cost savings relative to MidAmericans’s current plan, which focuses almost exclusively on new wind resources and continued coal burning. The alternative portfolio would also provide more around-the-clock clean energy than MidAmerican’s proposed Wind PRIME portfolio. Replacing coal plants with cost-effective, clean generation and complementary storage alternatives avoids substantial operation and maintenance costs and the additional capital investments that would be required to maintain MidAmerican’s aging coal fleet. In total, this plan would save 25 million tons of carbon emissions compared to MidAmerican’s, the equivalent of taking more than 5 millions cars off the road for a year (more than all the cars in Iowa).

Resource diversity is critical to a reliable system going forward and a key difference between the Synapse/EFG modeling findings and MidAmerican’s plan to run a wind/coal system. “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.”

MidAmerican did not use any quantitative modeling to choose the Wind PRIME mix, but instead selected a resource mix based on the goals of maximizing energy market revenues and federal tax credits. Devi Glick of Synapse stated in her testimony 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.” 

The new analysis conducted by Synapse and Energy Futures Groups used utility industry best practices to assess whether the Wind PRIME project is the right set of resource additions to help the utility transition away from its heavy reliance on expensive and polluting coal combustion. The experts used a proven modeling platform that has been adopted in 17 states to identify reliable low cost electricity portfolios. The analysis found that three of MidAmerican’s coal plants — Louisa, Neal 3, and Ottumwa — are uneconomic and should be retired as soon as feasible. The plan also includes retiring the remainder of the coal plants by 2035 and leverages the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act to add 1,600 MW of battery storage by 2030 and 3,700 MW of solar by 2035. The plan supports adding MidAmerican’s proposed 50 MW solar project and approximately a third of MidAmerican’s proposed wind additions.

“This groundbreaking analysis shows that Iowa doesn’t have to continue to burn coal to reliably and affordably meet electricity needs. The Inflation Reduction Act enables us to create thousands of family-sustaining clean energy jobs while heading off the worst impacts of the climate crisis in Iowa — but only if we act now. MidAmerican knows that its coal plants are a drain for Iowa customers and time is ticking for this expensive, dirty generation,” said the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign’s Iowa Representative Katie Rock. “Iowa coal plant communities and workers deserve to know what the plan is. MidAmerican needs to commit to a transparent planning process that prioritizes a just transition away from burning coal.”

The study’s findings are consistent with national trends, as utilities around the country are finding that coal plants cannot compete with low-cost, clean renewable energy sources, and that clean energy and storage can make the electric grid more reliable. “Planning to eliminate these expensive, dirty sources of generation and replacing them with renewables made sense even before the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act were available,” said Josh Mandelbaum

, senior attorney with Environmental Law & Policy Center. “It is critical that MidAmerican plan for a clean energy transition in a transparent manner using industry best practices before investing billions of dollars of Iowans’ hard-earned money.”

“Investor-owned utilities are regulated for a reason – to ensure that Iowa ratepayers receive reliable, affordable, and clean energy in return for the state-granted monopoly service territory. MidAmerican’s current plans appear designed to maximize return to Berkshire investors at the expense of Iowa ratepayers. We encourage the Board – and the Reynolds Administration – to expect and demand better,” said Andy Johnson with Clean Energy Districts of Iowa.

Deaconess Irene DeMaris of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, a statewide non-profit that mobilizes people of faith and conscience, pointed out, “People all over Iowa are struggling to pay ballooning energy bills, and winter heating season will only make that problem worse. And we know that this will impact low-income Iowans the greatest. It is crucial for MidAmerican to show that it is truly doing right by the Iowans the company is obligated to serve instead of greenwashing with false climate solutions. People and our futures matter more than profits.” 

“With far healthier alternatives to energy generation than coal, it is simply not conscionable to burden our children’s air with pollution from coal plants,” said Karin Stein of Moms Clean Air Force. “In Iowa, the proportion of Latinos and other people of color in neighborhoods near MidAmerican’s remaining coal plants is significant, so producing energy from coal is also an environmental justice concern. With Iowa’s asthma rates now exceeding the national average, we must move away from coal energy quickly to eliminate coal as a contributor to both poor health and the global climate crisis. Moms demand that MidAmerican review Wind PRIME to increase renewable investment and close down its remaining, harmful coal plants.” 

“It’s time for MidAmerican Energy to tell the whole truth about Wind PRIME and that the company isn’t planning to reach a 100% clean energy future anytime soon. When a multi-billion dollar development like Wind PRIME includes continuing to burn coal for decades, they don’t truly care about the people of Iowa. Young people in Iowa want action on the climate emergency, not the facade MidAmerican Energy is presenting,” said Tonyisha Harris, Action for the Climate Emergency Associate Director of Communications and Partnerships

“We need the Utilities Board to take a close look at this proposal because MidAmerican has not met its burden to show Iowans should pay for this,” said Michael Schmidt, IEC staff attorney. “Approval could hinder the transition to clean energy while saddling Iowa customers with increased costs for decades.”

The Utilities Board has scheduled a hearing on the Wind PRIME proposal for February 2023.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. We develop strategic campaigns to protect natural resources and improve environmental quality. Our multi-disciplinary staff employs teamwork approaches using legal, economic, and public policy tools to produce successes that improve our environment and economy. Learn more at www.elpc.org.

The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa’s natural environment. Founded in 1995, it is the largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition in the state. Through education, advocacy and coalition building, the Council raises awareness, generates action and creates large-scale change that makes Iowa a better place to live, work and explore. Learn more at iaenvironment.org.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information visit www.sierraclub.org.

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