What's the deal with IEC and Wind PRIME?

posted by Kerri Johannsen on Tuesday, February 7, 2023

You might be asking yourself, “Why are environmental groups pushing back on Wind PRIME?” We know it seems strange for groups like IEC to challenge MidAmerican Energy’s plans to construct more wind generation, even as we’re calling for MidAmerican to shut down its six Iowa coal plants or setting goals for our state to be using 100% carbon-free energy by 2035. Those goals are the exact reason why we're questioning MidAmerican’s project. 

There is no debate — IEC absolutely supports the transition to renewable energy in Iowa.  

We support the potential for thousands of good paying, union jobs that will employ Iowans. We support the potential for millions in local tax revenue that will be generated in rural counties. We support the millions of dollars in lease payments that make it easier for families to stay on their land and generate a profit from a new ‘crop.’ We support the transition of coal plant workers and communities to renewable energy work. And we support the climate benefits for Iowans and everyone else that result from not burning fossil fuels. 

What’s the issue with Wind PRIME? Quite simply, despite its name, Wind PRIME keeps the coal plants running. 

  1. Wind PRIME allows MidAmerican to continue burning dirty, expensive coal until 2049. You read that right: their plan to reach “100% clean energy” in Iowa is for them to keep burning coal. MidAmerican claims to need that coal for reliability (they don’t — more on that here) but what they're really doing is making millions of dollars each year by burning coal in Iowa (see page 11), then leaving the pollution here while they sell the energy out of state. 
  2. MidAmerican has a lot of wind on their system and that has been good for Iowa. But to actually reach 100% clean electricity, the wind must be balanced with solar to provide energy around the clock. We want to see MidAmerican increase the amount of solar construction in the proposal.  
  3. Similarly, Wind PRIME asked for millions of dollars to ‘study’ battery storage rather than build it. This is completely unnecessary. Storage works and we’re seeing it deployed by utilities across the U.S. and around the world – including places that experience cold winters, like our neighbors in Minnesota and Wisconsin. MidAmerican should catch up.  
  4. The proposal submitted doesn’t account for opportunities created by the Inflation Reduction Act. Of course we know Wind PRIME was planned before the IRA was passed in 2022. MidAmerican couldn’t have planned for the new law, but the Utilities Board ordered MidAmerican to reassess its plans. Instead of doing that, MidAmerican just calculated how much bigger its tax credits would be. It should do the responsible thing and revisit the overall plan of what to build, not how much it can profit.  
  5. MidAmerican has aggressively tried to hide its internal studies from the Utilities Board, parties to the case, and the public. Most utilities across the nation are required to provide details about what they plan to build with customer money in the long-term, called Integrated Resource Planning, or IRPs. The state of Iowa has no such requirements for IRPs. IEC and our partners hired experts to do that analysis, and they found a very different mix of solar and storage would accelerate Iowa’s transition away from coal at a lower cost than Wind PRIME. MidAmerican looked only at short-term tax credits for its parent company, Berkshire Hathaway, rather than seeing whether Wind PRIME is the right step for Iowa in a long-term vision.  

IEC serves a role as a watchdog in the policy and regulatory space. While we wholeheartedly support renewable development, we also support Iowa residents and want to ensure that projects that spend your hard-earned money are transparent, prudent, and financially responsible. IEC doesn’t rubber stamp plans without taking a deeper look, asking important questions, and holding decision-makers accountable. Sometimes, that means taking positions like this: challenging a project that sounds good on paper, but would have long-term costs for Iowans.  

IEC and our partners will participate in the IUB's upcoming hearing on the Wind PRIME proposal, slated to start at the Utility Board on Monday, February 20. Stay tuned for more!

  1. climate change
  2. coal
  3. inflation reduction act (ira)
  4. renewable energy
  5. solar power
  6. storage
  7. wind power

About The Author

Kerri Johannsen is Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council. She has over a decade of experience in energy policy, most recently serving as the Council’s Manager of Government Affairs, leading state-level legislative strategy. She previously developed energy policy with t ... read more