Environmental council suggests Iowa’s utilities should speed up retirement of coal usage


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 17, 2021

Iowa should speed up the disuse of coal plants in the state according to new analysis from the Iowa Environmental Council.

The council said Iowa’s investor-owned utilities do no need coal power to meet the demands of residents. Steve Guyer, the council’s energy and climate policy specialist, said there are options to help Iowa build on its wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources, including power generated with hydrogen and battery storage of electricity. These energy options are enough to meet the needs of Iowans.

The Iowa Environmental Council is also joining forces with the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club to appeal a decision by the Iowa Utilities Board that allowed MidAmerican Energy Company’s coal plants to evade reviews this year. The lawsuit is leaning on Iowa’s law that requires biennial review of plants to manage coal emissions, suggesting the MidAmerican company ignored options to retire coal plants and decrease emissions.

MidAmerican is the largest carbon polluter in the state according to the council, due to its owning and operating of five coal plants in Iowa. The company has no plan to retire the use of coal regardless of the council’s new analysis. The lawsuit was filed in a Polk County District Court on June 11.

MidAmerican has invested in the use of wind and solar resources in recent years, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The company has retired four coal plants in the last six years, but Guyer said coal is not needed at all in the state and no longer creates an effective “base load” of electricity.

Alliant Energy Announces Plans to Shutter Iowa Coal Plant and Begin Transitioning to Renewable Energy


Via flickr

Nicole Welle | November 2, 2020

Alliant Energy announced the Clean Energy Blueprint for Iowa last week, a plan that will transition one of their coal-burning plants to nuclear energy and shut down the Lansing Generating station altogether.

The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) have publicly announced their support of the plan. By shuttering the Lansing Generating Station by 2022, converting the Burlington plant to nuclear energy and constructing more solar plants and battery storage stations, Alliant Energy will eliminate 487MW of coal-generated power in Iowa by 2026, according to an IEC news release.

Not only will eliminating coal plants reduce pollution, it will also save Alliant customers money. When Alliant Energy requested a 24% rate increase on residential customers in 2019, the ELPC and IEC contracted Uday Varadarajan, an expert data analyst, to examine the economics of Iowa’s coal plants and examine the cost of alternative forms of energy. He found that maintaining the coal plants was more expensive than both clean energy alternatives and buying power from the wholesale market. Retiring the Lansing plant and committing to expanding solar power will help prevent rate increases for customers in the future and help them avoid more that $300 million in costs over the next 35 years, according to an Alliant Energy press release.

Environmental activists hope that positive changes like this will spark further discussion and push companies throughout the Midwest to move away from carbon-based energy. Future efforts to move Iowa towards 100% renewable energy will benefit the environment and help save Iowans money.

EPA Rolls Back Effluent Limits for Coal Power Plants


Graphic of a coal power plant
Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | September 7, 2020

EPA recently announced it was finalizing the “Steam Electric Consideration Rule,” a rule that will roll back requirements limiting toxic discharge from coal power plants

EPA adopted standards to limit this discharge in 2015, but they extended the compliance date to the completion of this new rule. Now, the new rule is set to adopt weaker standards, provide a further extension for compliance and exempt facilities that will switch fuel sources or are scheduled to retire within a set time period, according to an article published by the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC).

The rule outlines new “effluent limit guidelines” under the Clean Water Act for nitrogen and toxic metals like mercury, arsenic and selenium. These guidelines set water quality standards for industrial discharges based on “the best technology that is economically achievable” for power plants. Instead of setting a strict technology-based standard, this allows facilities to determine what treatment to install that will meet discharge limitations.

“Regulations are meant to be protective of the environment, not the industries that cause pollution,” said IEC Water Program Director Ingrid Gronstal Anderson in an IEC article. “Over the last several years, EPA has been rolling back environmental standards in favor of economic interests. This abdication of regulatory responsibility is a clear danger to public health and the environment.”

EPA claims the new rule will do a better job of reducing pollution than the 2015 rule. However, they base their calculations off of the assumption that facilities will instal better technology and achieve more reductions than the rule actually requires.

MidAmerican wind expansion approved by IUB, scorned by green energy groups


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Wind power, generated by turbines like those pictured above, is on the rise in Iowa, but not everyone is happy with the circumstances under which it is growing (flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 21, 2018

MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII project will bring the utility company’s “100 percent clean energy vision” to reality so why are groups like the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law & Policy center unhappy with it?

These groups and others opposed the project throughout court proceedings, which concluded with the Iowa Utilities Board granting approval for the projection Dec. 4. While expanding wind energy is certainly a positive in itself, environmentalists hoped the board would require MidAmerican to shut down coal plants and evaluate the cost effectiveness of coal power as a condition to the project’s approval.

“It is time for MidAmerican to make a transparent and long-term commitment to 100% clean energy that includes phasing out one of the 20 largest coal fleets in the country,” explained Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Josh Mandelbaum in a press release.

Though MidAmerican has committed to providing “100 percent renewable” energy, in reality they have only promised to “generate renewable energy equal to 100 percent of its customers’ usage on an annual basis,” in their own words.  The Wind XII project would be the final step to completing that vision. The company is one of the nation’s top coal-burning utilities, however, and has no plans to phase out its coal production in Iowa, even as it expands wind power.

MidAmerican told the Des Moines Register in August that coal was necessary for “low wind” times, but Mandelbaum in the same article called the whole renewable energy declaration “a gimmick.” The company still derives about 30 percent of energy from coal.

More recently, the Register published an opinion piece by Elizabeth Katt Reinders, a senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Reinders shamed MidAmerican for its continued reliance on coal, and urged it towards a truer clean energy vision for the sake of our air, energy bills and climate.

EPA moves to clean up coal plants nationwide


Photo by kym, Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency is gaining ground in its battle against polution emitted from coal plants.  It hopes to finish two measures this week that would help the power plants cut back on their emissions.

McClatchy Newspapers reports:

After years of delays and false starts under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the Environmental Protection Agency is close to finishing two measures to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Health experts say the pollution reductions will save thousands of lives every year by sparing people asthma attacks, heart attacks and other health problems. Coal-dependent power companies that face big bills for new equipment in response to the EPA rules are calling for more time, arguing that electric rates will rise, harming households and industries.

One of the rules, expected in final form as early as Wednesday, would force states in the eastern half of the country to reduce pollutants that travel hundreds of miles to create dangerously bad air days in other states. The other rule, due in November and the subject of much wrangling, will be the first national requirement to reduce mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Continue reading