Advice for MidAmerican: Close Coal Plants to Meet Emissions Requirements

posted on Friday, December 18, 2020 in Energy News

Expert testimony filed with IUB shows coal retirement is best way to meet requirements 

Steam from coal plant chimneys

DES MOINES, IA – Closing its coal plants and replacing them with renewable generation is the most economic and efficient way for MidAmerican Energy to meet its emissions requirements, said three environmental organizations in expert testimony filed yesterday at the Iowa Utilities Board.  

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council, and Sierra Club jointly filed the testimony as part of a regulatory docket on MidAmerican Energy’s coal plant emission control plans. Utilities are required to file emissions plans, which outline how the utility will meet air pollution requirements, with the IUB every two years. The IUB requires the utility’s plan to be “cost-effective.”  

Retiring coal plants early is not unprecedented – Iowa’s second largest electricity provider, Alliant Energy, announced earlier this year that closing its Lansing, IA coal plant and replacing it with renewables was cheaper for ratepayers than continuing to run it. Paying for ongoing pollution control costs and necessary upgrades at that plant would have been prohibitively expensive and replacing the fossil fuel plant with renewable energy was the more cost-effective choice. 

“We continue to see that renewable resources – wind, solar, and storage – are the cheapest form of energy today and that operating expensive, dirty coal plants is wasting ratepayers’ money,” said Kerri Johannsen, IEC Energy Program Director. “The best way for utilities to save money, plan for the future, and meet emissions requirements that protect the health of their customers is to stop using fossil fuels and fully commit to a renewable future.” 

David Posner, the independent expert witness employed by the three environmental groups in this docket, analyzed two of MidAmerican’s coal plants in Iowa and found that closing MidAmerican Energy’s George Neal North and South coal plants near Sioux City and replacing that generation with low-cost, renewable wind energy would be the optimal cost-effective choice for meeting emissions requirements.   

The testimony shows that retiring Neal North (also called Neal 3) by the end of 2022 would lower the cost of energy by as much as 10% over ten years when employing a ‘green bond.’ Posner noted Neal South (also known as Neal 4) operates with worse economics than Neal 3 and that retiring that plant by 2022 could see as much as 23% savings over 10 years.  

"It's clear we no longer need to rely on operating expensive pollution controls to get clean air and protect public health. It’s more cost-effective to replace uneconomic coal plants and their pollution controls with new emission-free renewable energy. If MidAmerican does not include coal retirements in its emissions plan, the Board should reject it," said Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney for Environmental Law & Policy Center

The testimony corroborated an extensive analysis by the Sierra Club that found these two plants have lost $27.5 million for its customers over the last five years. Low energy prices in 2020 worsened the performance of these plants, which are the most expensive in MidAmerican’s coal fleet in Iowa. The report, based on analysis of MidAmerican’s own data, showed committing to retire both plants by 2023 would save MidAmerican customers $92 million. 

“This testimony reinforces what we know with clarity in 2020. Fossil fuels like coal can no longer compete with cheaper, cleaner options like wind, solar and storage. Continuing to rely on coal power is a drag on public health due to air pollution and higher carbon emissions. Plus coal power is a bad deal for customers,” said Katie Rock, the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Representative.

View the docket here: 


  1. carbon pollution
  2. clean energy
  3. climate change
  4. coal
  5. public health
  6. renewable energy
  7. wind power