Iowa environmental groups say proposed Alliant rate hike is uneconomical


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Two Iowa environmental non-profits are concerned about proposed cost increases for Alliant Energy customers(via flickr).

Julia Poska | September 11, 2019

The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Policy Center last month submitted testimony  from five “expert witnesses” to the Iowa Utilities Board regarding Alliant Energy’s proposed base rate increases, currently under review.

The environmental groups disapprove of the proposal overall and said they believe they have identified alternative “solutions that will save customers money while cleaning up Alliant’s generation mix.”

Below are summaries of Alliant’s proposal and the environmental groups’ critique.

About Alliant’s proposal

On April 1, 2019, Alliant customers began seeing an interim base rate increase (about $8 for the typical residential customer) on their energy bills.

The company plans to further raise the rate beginning January 1, 2020. The total increase of $20 (24.45%) for typical  residential customers would bring about $203.6 million in revenue into the company annually.

In a proposal to customers, Alliant said the company is “investing in new wind farms, energy grid technologies including advanced metering infrastructure, and environmental controls that reduce emissions.”

The company has also said that the additional cost to customers would be offset over time by reductions in other costs like energy efficiency.

 The proposed increases are awaiting a hearing in November from the Iowa Utility Board. If the increases are not approved, Alliant would have to refund customers for excess paid during the interim increase. 

The IEC/ELPC perspective 

The IEC and ELPC have both economic and socioeconomic concerns about the proposal, as outlined in their testimony to the IUB. The testimony also provided economic analysis of the utility’s current coal power generation. 

A few highlights from the testimony include:

  1. Coal generation costs more than renewables. An analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute Principal Uday Varadarajan on behalf of the two organizations found that the cost of Alliant’s coal generation exceeds that of projected renewable energy costs. Retiring three Alliant coal plants and purchasing market energy or purchasing or generating wind energy could save customers $16 million in 2020, he found.  This was proposed as an alternative move for Alliant to make, increasing renewables while reducing rather than increasing cost to consumers. (Read more from U.S. Energy News).
  2. Revenue would be spent on wasteful initiatives. The groups call out one initiative Alliant has proposed — putting power lines underground — as a poor use of consumer funds.
  3. Proposed solar programs could undermine the industry. The groups believe Alliant’s new community solar program (implied to be funded in part by the rate increase) would compete with solar businesses and potentially create a monopoly. They said the proposal also includes measures similar to those proposed in the “Sunshine Tax” legislation earlier this year to increase cost for solar customers.

 

 

The Iowa ‘sunshine tax’: What you need to know


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The “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” may not be so sunny (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 28, 2019

The so-called “sunshine tax” might have a bright and cheery name, but the proposed fee could put a real damper on private solar power in Iowa.

Described in House Study Bill 185 and Senate Study Bill 1201, the “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” would impose an over $300 annual fee on solar customers — property owners with small-scale solar panel setups who sell excess power back to the grid. The fee would cover the cost of using the electric grid and support Iowa’s energy infrastructure.

Currently, such customers can expect to pay off the high initial cost of solar panel installation in less than 10 years through savings on energy bills and sales of excess power. Cedar Rapids City Councilman Tyler Olson told the designated House subcommittee the fee would extend that period to as much as 20 years, as reported in the Gazette. This would greatly discourage private individuals from investing in home setups, which typically last about 25 years.

Supporters of the fee, including major Iowa utilities like MidAmerican and Alliant Energy, say it is unfair that customers who do not generate their own power absorb the cost of maintaining power infrastructure that is used by solar generators.

“Growth is possible when policies allow all customers to benefit from renewable energy,”  MidAmerican Energy’s president and CEO said in a press release. “Common sense legislation focused on keeping costs low and affordable for everyone provides the best opportunity to grow solar in Iowa.”

Opponents say the fee would only allow solar to grow for large corporations, however, and that it would kill the future of Iowa’s growing solar industry, which largely develops and installs systems for private homes, businesses and farms.

On Tuesday, the Gazette reported that the the bill would soon move forward in the Iowa House, to the full House Commerce Committee. Yesterday, the Iowa Senate held a hearing on their version of the bill, and did the same. There is a push among some legislators to delay the conversation until the Iowa Utilities Board finishes an assessment of compensation for solar energy producers next year.

 

Iowa’s biggest solar power operation is under construction


Dubuque will soon be home to the largest solar power operation in Iowa. (zak zak/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 21, 2017

Construction for the biggest solar power operation in the state is underway.

Alliant Energy is building 15,600 solar panels on 21 acres near Dubuque to produce enough energy to power 727 Iowa homes every year. The $10 million project should be up and running by August.

The energy company is working with the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation to establish the operation. Another smaller solar site will be constructed closer to downtown Dubuque, and will have an educational component for visitors. The city of Dubuque has been a leader in sustainability in Iowa, and is a member of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities through the University of Iowa.

Alliant, which serves customers in Iowa and Wisconsin, already owns several renewable energy operations, including other solar projects, four wind farms, and a few hydroelectric dams.

“We see the cost of solar going down and the efficiency going up, and we anticipate more and more customers who demand renewable energy,” Alliant’s vice president of generation operations Terry Kouba said to the Associated Press. “Alliant will invest in more solar projects in the future, and we will look back at this Dubuque project and say, ‘This is where it began.'”

 

Alliant Energy announces $1B investment for Iowa wind farm


Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 28, 2016

Alliant Energy announced Wednesday that it will invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to expand wind energy projects in Iowa.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based utility company will seek regulatory approval to expand the Whispering Willow Wind Farm in Franklin County in north central Iowa. The project would add 500 megawatts of clean energy over the next five years and Alliant officials do not expect to use eminent domain. The project is expected to provide power for 215,000 homes, generate thousands of dollars in property tax revenue, and create as many as 1,500 jobs during the height of construction.

“Our customers expect low-cost, clean energy, which is exactly what this project will bring to the communities we serve,” said Doug Kopp, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa utility. “Wind has no fuel costs and zero emissions, making it a win-win for Iowans and the Iowa economy.”

Alliant Energy’s announcement was lauded by local environmental groups, including Nathaniel Baer with the Iowa Environmental Council.

“Alliant Energy’s new wind project will continue Iowa’s strong momentum on clean energy leadership. Across the state, utilities and developers are placing 10,000 MW of wind by 2020 – a major milestone – within reach,” Baer said in a statement.

Alliant Energy also said that it would be receptive to expanding other projects in Iowa outside of Franklin County. The proposed expansion is part of the utility’s vision for a clean energy future which includes a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent between 2005 and 2030.

In May, Alliant’s competitor MidAmerican Energy announced a $3.6 billion investment for its own wind energy project in Iowa.

On The Radio: Iowa utility to phase out old coal plants, make upgrades


Iowa's investment in wind energy has lessened the state's need to implement measures to be in compliance with the EPA's new Clean Air Act. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Iowa’s investment in wind energy has lessened the state’s need to implement measures to be in compliance with the EPA’s new Clean Air Act. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Setpember 14, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at an Iowa utility that is phasing out old coal plants and making energy-efficient upgrades to newer plants to be in compliance with the EPA’s Clean Air Act. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa utility to phase out old coal plants, make upgrades

A Clean Air Act settlement with Iowa’s second largest power provider will help Iowans breathe easy in coming years.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Interstate Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, will install new pollution controls at two coal-fired plants and retire five other coal-fired plants by 2025 as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The power company began negotiations with the EPA in 2011 after modifications at their Lansing and Ottumwa plants were found to cause increases in sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxides.

These pollutants in addition to increased particulate matter in the atmosphere can cause significant health problems for Iowans.

In addition to the estimated $620 million in equipment costs, Interstate Power and Light will spend $6 million on environmental mitigation projects and pay a $1.1 million fine as part of the settlement.

For more information about Iowa air quality, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

http://thesouthern.com/news/local/environment/deal-requires-deep-pollution-cuts-at-iowa-coal-fired-plants/article_1f5f790b-ef19-5215-ad9b-5736ada51795.html

http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/AE4A887AFE0E35AE85257E83005462EC

http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/interstate-power-and-light-company-clean-air-act-settlement

Iowa utility agrees to phase out several coal plants, pay fine


Smokestacks from a coal plant near Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Rich/Flickr)
Smokestacks from a coal plant near Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Rich/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 16, 2015

An Iowa utility company plans to phase out several of its coal-fired power plants in the near future.

Interstate Power and Light Co. – a subsidiary of Alliant Energy – announced on Wednesday that it will either close or convert to natural gas five of its coal plants while an additional two plants will be equipped with pollution control technology. The cost for these projects is estimated at $620 million. Wednesday’s announcement marks the 200th closure of a coal plant nationwide over the last five years.

The Sierra Club, the state of Iowa, and other local and federal agencies sued Interstate Power and Light alleging the company was in violation of the Clean Air Act. In addition to the closures and upgrades to its facilities, Interstate Power and Light has also agreed to a pay a $1.1 million civil penalty within 30 days of the settlement. The company will also spend an additional $6 million on other environmental projects including the development of solar facilities, the replacement of traditional utility bucket trucks with hybrid trucks, and the development or expansion of anaerobic digesters.

“For several years, we have been executing a plan to create cleaner and more efficient ways to generate energy for our customers,” Alliant Energy Iowa utility President Doug Kopp said in a press release. “Iowans are already seeing the benefits of our work, and our next projects will deliver even more clean-energy solutions.”

Emission reduction projects will take place on two of the company’s largest facilities in Lansing and Ottumwa while smaller power stations in Burlington and Cedar Rapids will convert to natural gas. Alliant generating stations in Clinton, Dubuque, and Marshalltown have already transitioned to natural gas.

Central College recognized for efficiency efforts


Earlier this month Central College was presented with a check from Alliant Energy. From left: Bill Northup, vice president for advancement; Peggy Fitch, vice president of student development, Mark Putnam, Central College president; David Vollmar, Alliant Energy key account manager; Janine Fontana, operations manager and Mike Lubberden, Central College director of facilities planning and management. (Central College News)
Earlier this month Central College was presented with a check from Alliant Energy for energy efficiency effort on campus. From left: Bill Northup, vice president for advancement; Peggy Fitch, vice president of student development, Mark Putnam, Central College president; David Vollmar, Alliant Energy key account manager; Janine Fontana, operations manager and Mike Lubberden, Central College director of facilities planning and management. (Central College News)

Nick Fetty | December 26, 2014

Earlier this month Iowa’s Central College received a $18,969 rebate from Alliant Energy for energy efficiency projects on campus.

The college recently installed new insulation in Gaass residence hall as well as an energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the Maytag Student Center. Both of these projects were financed with assistance from Alliant Energy’s custom rebate and new construction energy programs.

These efforts are expected to save the college nearly 25,000 therms of natural gas annually. Additionally, these efforts will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 132 metric tons each year, the equivalent of removing about 28 percent of passenger vehicles from Iowa roadways.

In 2003, Central’s Vermeer Science Center was the first building on an Iowa campus to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification after then president David Roe signed the Talloires Declaration on sustainability . The college is also working toward eventually powering its entire vehicle fleet using photovoltaics. Earlier this year Central became the fourth school in Iowa to join the Alliance for Resilient Campuses which aims to adapt to the challenges of climate change and promote sustainability.

Central College is a private liberal arts college with 1,386 students located in Pella, Iowa.