Three Iowa environmental groups are suing a state regulatory agency, saying it has failed to require MidAmerican Energy, the state’s largest electricity provider, to weigh retiring two of its western Iowa coal plants.
In the lawsuit, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Sierra Club say the Iowa Utilities Board didn’t consider the cost savings that would come from MidAmerican retiring two coal plants near Sergeant Bluff and replacing them with renewable energy sources.
The groups say MidAmerican Energy, part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway companies, must manage its emissions cost-effectively but ignored the option of retiring two of its coal plants in a plan that the Iowa Utilities Board approved in March.
Shuttering the George Neal Energy Center’s North plant would lower Iowans’ energy costs 10% over a decade, and closing the Neal South plant would save customers 23% over the same time, the groups said.
A financial analysis show the two plants are the “most expensive and least economic to operate,” the groups said. Altogether, MidAmerican owns five coal plants and is the majority owner of a sixth.
Despite MidAmerican’s $13 billion investment in developing wind energy, the utility is the “single-largest carbon polluter in the state of Iowa,” the environmental groups said. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a primary driver of climate change.
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“MidAmerican claims to be making progress toward its 100% renewable vision, but MidAmerican cannot be 100% renewable until it retires its uneconomic coal plants,” Josh Mandelbaum, a senior Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney, said in a statement.
MidAmerican has said wind energy powered 80% of the electricity its customers needed last year.
The environmental groups are appealing the Iowa Utilities Board’s approval of MidAmerican’s updated emissions and budget plan in March, saying the board must consider whether the plan “reasonably balances costs, environmental requirements, economic development potential, and the reliability of the electric generation and transmission system.”
The utilities board said considering alternative emissions management was beyond the scope of Iowa law. The board said Tuesday it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
MidAmerican said in a statement that the “Iowa Utilities Board was clear in its ruling that MidAmerican’s emissions plan and budget were both reasonable and cost effective, and we’re confident the court will uphold the board’s decision.”
MidAmerican filed its first emissions plan and budget in 2002, and updates it every two years, according to the lawsuit.
“We know that coal plants are dirtier and more expensive than clean alternatives. Utilities have often addressed coal retirements as part of their emissions plans, and there is no reason this case should have been different,” Mandelbaum said in a statement.
“Operating the Neal plants, which MidAmerican does not need to meet demand, has forced customers to pay millions in unnecessary costs,” Katie Rock, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign representative, said in a statement.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8457.