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Switching to 'green' energy has a cost 

Iowans who try to go “green” with ethanol or wind power will unwittingly contribute to greenhouse-gas emissions, say energy officials.

That’s because the Iowa companies that make ethanol and wind-turbine blades are largely powered by coal, a chief source of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Officials with Alliant Energy, which has proposed a new coal-fired plant in Marshalltown, told the Iowa Utilities Board recently that if Iowans want renewable energy, they will need more electricity from coal plants.

That left environmentalists who are fighting the plant shaking their heads.

“It seems like they are trying to take advantage of a green-washing opportunity by saying this helps with greenhouse gases, but they are actually making the case that we need more green electricity,” said Matthew Davis of Environment America.

Andrew Snow, who follows climate change issues in Iowa for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, chuckled at the situation.

“They seem to be saying ‘burn coal to fight global warming,’ ” Snow said.

Approximately 78 percent of power generated in Iowa comes from coal. That means that virtually every wind-turbine manufacturer, ethanol plant, recycling facility, or energy-efficient home is still contributing to the worsening of climate change by using power from coal.

Alliant Energy has proposed a 630-megawatt, coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown. The company testified to the utilities board that more coal power is needed in large part to support the growing fleet of plants that produce ethanol – which could reduce dependence on foreign oil – and facilities in Newton and elsewhere that will make wind-turbine blades or other wind-energy components.

Spokesman Ryan Stensland of Alliant Energy, parent of Interstate Power and Light Co., which proposed the $1.5 billion Marshalltown plant, said biofuels plants now under construction or planned would by themselves consume the equivalent of Interstate’s 350-megawatt share of the power from the new plant.

Environmentalists cite twisted logic

Environmentalists are fighting the plant. They say if Iowans cut their power use through efficiency programs, Alliant wouldn’t need what they see as twisted logic.

Burn ethanol to cut greenhouse gas emissions and you still are using power from a coal plant that is contributing to climate change. As it stands, in Iowa you don’t have much choice.

“You scratch the surface on ethanol and you find a black lump of coal,” said Mark Kresowik, who fights coal plants for the Sierra Club. “That changes the dynamics.”

Plug in an electric and hybrid car – you’re most likely buying coal power to do it.

“I think that’s true, but it doesn’t have to be,” Kresowik said.

Interstate chief Tom Aller has said coal is by far the cheapest and most reliable way to provide large amounts of power. The company also is investing in new wind developments.

MidAmerican Energy, which opened a new coal plant in Council Bluffs last year, has taken a similar approach.

Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, which is backed by coal and power companies and transportation firms, has run a monthslong media campaign supporting coal as a clean, cheap way to power growth in Iowa and the rest of the United States.

Senator looks to future of energy

In his testimony at a utilities board public hearing, Sen. Larry McKibben of Marshalltown said he realizes that coal-fired energy is used at biofuels plants he drives by at Steamboat Rock and Iowa Falls. He knows the new wind-turbine-blade plants in Iowa rely on coal, too.

“This is part of how we keep and transition to the new energy of the future,” he said.

Utilities say they need more generating capacity to keep up with a 1 percent to 2 percent annual jump in electricity use in Iowa that is fueled by forces ranging from flat-screen TVs, which use five times more power than older sets, to ethanol plants.

With natural gas prices soaring, and wind energy variable, they strongly support coal as the cheapest, most reliable fuel for big power plants.

But the Sierra Club’s Kresowik said energy-efficiency programs would prevent the need for the new plant, and wind energy could help, too.

Snow, of the environmental policy center, said facilities such as wind-turbine manufacturers could easily get most of their power from wind turbines on their own sites.

An ethanol plant in Winnebago, Minn., soon will generate almost half its power with wind turbines and wants wind eventually to provide all its electricity, Snow said.


Reporter Perry Beeman can be reached at (515) 284-8538 or pbeeman@dmreg.com


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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