Two environmental groups want Iowa regulators to require that MidAmerican Energy Co.’s 100 percent renewable energy goal include coal plant retirements, more solar power and other emissions-free resources besides wind.
The Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center submitted joint comments to the Iowa Utilities Board on Monday recommending that the utility’s 591-megawatt Wind XII project – the final piece of its 100 percent renewable vision – only be included in rates if the utility agrees to shut down coal units.
“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,” ELPC attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.
MidAmerican, which had 5,000 MW of wind in service before this year, won praise among clean energy groups when it announced a plan to be the first investor-owned utility to generate renewable energy equal to 100 percent of its customers’ usage on an annual basis with the completion of its latest wind development. The company expects to complete the Wind XII project in late 2020 subject to regulatory approval.
Less known, however, is that MidAmerican has three coal plants in Iowa with 3,740 MW of capacity, according to federal filings. The utility is also a majority owner of the 726-MW Ottumwa coal plant, operated by Interstate Power and Light Co.
The environmental groups said MidAmerican’s latest wind addition would only cut the utility’s coal-fired capacity from 26 percent of its portfolio to 24 percent and therefore would not deliver to consumers the benefits promised.
“This approach exposes its customers to unnecessary fossil fuel risks and creates an inflexible system that does not maximize the benefits from renewable energy,” Kerri Johannsen, energy program manager of the Iowa Environmental Council, said in testimony.
The filing recommends that the IUB require the utility to retire an equivalent amount of coal before allowing MidAmerican to include the Wind XII project in its rate base.
The groups also want MidAmerican to submit an analysis of the cost-effectiveness and risks to customers of continuing to operate coal generators compared with replacing coal with clean energy.
The filing noted that other utilities across the country, including Consumers Energy, Xcel Energy Inc. and NV Energy, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. company, are finding in long-term plans that the combination of renewable power and demand reduction is a cheaper alternative to coal.
“While other utilities are announcing innovative generation portfolios that rely on a mix of renewables, demand-side resources, and storage to retire risky coal plants and avoid new fossil generation, MidAmerican’s current trajectory is toward a static system dominated by wind and coal,” Johannsen said.
Des Moines-based MidAmerican disputes the argument that it’s not doing enough to clean up its generating fleet.
“MidAmerican Energy’s track record in renewable energy speaks for itself,” spokeswoman Tina Hoffman said in a statement. “Since 2003, harnessing wind energy has enabled us to cut our carbon intensity in half, and that will only increase as we continue to add to our wind fleet.”
The utility said it has retired four coal units at two plant sites in the past several years, and all remaining units that it still operates are equipped with environmental controls to minimize emissions. In addition, MidAmerican said it has the most wind capacity of any utility, and the capacity additions have come with no increases to consumer rates.
“The bottom line is our carbon intensity is decreasing and our wind generation capacity is expanding,” Hoffman said.
Meanwhile, she said, the inclusion of natural gas, nuclear and coal-fueled plants in MidAmerican’s portfolio helps ensure system reliability when the wind isn’t producing enough energy.
The environmental groups argue in their testimony that MidAmerican should look to broaden its portfolio further to include more clean resources that could displace fossil energy.
MidAmerican will have a surplus of capacity for more than a decade until the Quad Cities nuclear plant is retired in 2032-33, meaning there’s a significant window of opportunity to truly transition to cleaner energy with the addition of more solar and battery storage and by using efficiency and demand response to reduce energy use, the groups said.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 3. MidAmerican has requested a final order by Dec. 3.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding