Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

posted on Monday, August 6, 2018 in Energy News

Des Moines, Iowa -- The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center filed testimony with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) in MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII docket. Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council, provided the testimony on behalf of both groups, calling for approval of the additional wind to include requirements for equivalent coal capacity retirements.

The groups also strongly recommended MidAmerican outline a process for a comprehensive clean energy transition that includes wind, solar, storage and demand side resources such as energy efficiency and demand response.

MidAmerican is touting Wind XII as the final project in the 100% Renewable Vision the company announced in 2016. However, MidAmerican has not announced a single coal plant retirement since setting this benchmark. The company owns and operates five coal plants in Iowa with a total of 3,740 MW of nameplate capacity and is majority owner of the 725 MW Ottumwa Generating Station.

According to 2016 data from the Energy Information Administration, this level of capacity puts MidAmerican’s coal fleet in the top 20 largest fleets of any utility in the country -- at 19 -- out of the 164 companies that own at least 100MW of coal generation. Construction of new coal plants is not cost-effective and utilities around the U.S. are announcing coal retirements on an almost daily basis. By betting on coal, MidAmerican will only climb in this undesirable ranking.

“The state of Iowa and MidAmerican’s wind energy leadership is commendable,” said Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “However, a comprehensive clean energy vision requires a plan for retiring dirty coal plants and replacing them with a diverse mix of renewable resources including wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency.”

MidAmerican filed its proposal for Wind XII on May 30, 2018. Wind XII is a 591 MW, $922 million project that would be completed by late 2020.

Wind generation provides significant benefits including hedging risks from fuel price volatility and geo-political uncertainty, environmental benefits, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.  However, as Johannsen points out, “[m]any benefits MidAmerican claims for Wind XII are unlikely to occur unless coupled with retirement of coal capacity.”

Utilities around the country have begun proposing comprehensive clean energy transition plans. Johannsen’s testimony summarizes several examples of utilities retiring coal plants and replacing them with a mix of wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency including Xcel Energy in Colorado, Consumers Energy in Michigan, and MidAmerican’s sister Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries, NV Energy and PacifiCorp.

Iowa’s wind leadership helped the state attract companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook that wanted to invest in a state that offered affordable, renewable energy for their power needs. Says Johannsen, “To remain competitive, Iowa utilities must not settle for the status quo, but instead continue to show leadership in clean energy innovation or the state will fall behind other emerging leaders.”