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Des Moines Register Editorial Board: It's time to accelerate the move away from coal

Excerpts from the editorial originally published in the Des Moines Register on Sunday, February 26, 2023

For many years, few people have seriously disputed the idea that burning coal for electricity has to stop, eventually. The argument these days is over the "eventually." In recognition of the severity of the effects of human-caused climate change, it’s time in Iowa to replace that word with a date, no later than 2035.

A year ago, MidAmerican Energy announced its Wind PRIME proposal, in which it would add over 2,000 megawatts of wind power (expanding current wind capacity by about 30%) and a smaller amount of solar energy. It also pledged to research other ways to reduce emissions, including carbon capture. Company officials said it would keep prices low and called it a major step forward in achieving several long-range MidAmerican targets, including having the ability to serve all customer demand through renewable energy and reaching “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The Iowa Environmental Council, the Environmental Policy & Law Center and the Sierra Club argue that MidAmerican did not properly consider alternative mixes of technology for what became Wind PRIME. Moreover, the groups say, more aggressive investment in solar generation, electricity storage and earlier retirements of the company’s five coal plants would be better for the environment — and would not sacrifice MidAmerican’s reliability or cause customers’ or the company’s costs to spiral.

Regulators have to take reliability, the environment, prices and more into account in deciding whether Wind PRIME meets the ambiguous standard in Iowa law (very generally, that a utility’s plans be “reasonable”). Thousands of pages of depositions, studies, legal briefs and other documents will guide the Utilities Board on that question. But this editorial board is free to take a step back from the law to say that it’s time, probably past time, for utilities to put much greater urgency on abandoning coal — even if doing so also means taking some gambles on brownouts and blackouts, price volatility and newer technology.

Scientists have long known the health risks of emissions from power plants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, mercury and other hazardous air pollutants. Adding new urgency to human risk arguments: Coal power is among the worst offenders for carbon dioxide emissions. Climate scientists expect the CO2 already in our atmosphere to intensify disastrous effects on humans and other life that we’re already seeing through extreme weather and disease — and not in the far future. Children of the 1960s have good odds to be around when global warming hits 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a figure that’s long been seen as a potentially critical threshold. Below it, scientists argue, we adapt to a changed world; above it, we scrap to survive in a transformed world.

We’ll echo a target that environmentalists have voiced: MidAmerican should turn off its coal plants no later than 2035. Customers and other Iowans should tell the company as much.

Iowa Energy News 

Iowa's electric vehicle taxes set to go up

EV owners will pay more at charging stations starting in July, thanks to a new fee structure Iowa lawmakers passed in 2019. The state is implementing a $.026 per kilowatt-hour excise tax at public charging stations. That's on top of an annual supplemental EV registration fee of $130.

"Most states don’t charge an additional registration fee as well as an excise tax," IEC's energy program director Kerri Johannsen shared with Axios Des Moines in an interview earlier this month

She also highlighted that the most impacted charging stations will be in rural Iowa due to internet constraints that make monitoring and charging customers difficult. 

ISU to study growing crops in solar farm’s footprint

A new Iowa State University research project will study how to grow crops amid an array of solar panels.

Farming in combination with solar raises numerous factors that need to be explored, such as spacing considerations for equipment and  learning what types of crops will thrive in partial sun conditions under panels.  

Researchers will raise bees and plant vegetables, fruits, and pollinator habitat within the 10-acre farm just south of Ames, studying the emerging concept of agrivoltaics – using solar power sites for agricultural purposes to make more efficient use of the land and create value for the communities where solar panels are located.

New bills put Iowa's consumer protections at risk

As the 2023 Iowa Legislative Session continues, so does the theme of stripping protections for Iowans.
Senate File 198 threatens to remove oversight on utility spending to upgrade aging coal plants. Current law requires the utilities to get approval from the Iowa Utilities Board before spending money to modify coal plants. This bill makes review entirely voluntary.
The Governor's massive government reorganization bill, HSB 126, also seeks changes that threaten the independence of The Office of the Consumer Advocate, which represents the interests of Iowa customers against the utilities. Learn more about these bills and how you can take action at our legislative portal.

Featured Video

Break Up with Coal: Clean Up MidAm

February is the month for celebrating the ones we love. But this year, we knew it was time to end a toxic relationship: our relationship with MidAmerican's coal-generated electricity. Coal isn't good for any of us, leaving toxic air and water pollution in its wake. MidAmerican Energy doesn't need coal and neither do we, and the Clean Up MidAm campaign delivered our 'Dear John' letter in a recent video.

Be sure to visit our newest website, the  Iowa Energy & Infrastructure Funding Hub. This resource provides information on key federal programs to assist Iowans across sectors. Many new grants and tax credits became available in January of this year, and more incentives will become accessible later in 2023. The site will be regularly updated with new details and deadlines, resources, and news stories about local projects and successes.

Upcoming Events

Environmental Mixology is back next Tuesday, March 7! Join us at xBk in Des Moines for live music with the FunkDaddies, while enjoying specially curated cocktails. Get your tickets to join us live or watch live-streamed show!

Join fellow advocates at the Capitol Rotunda on Friday, March 3 at 2 p.m. for a Climate Strike. No pre-registration is required. Show up solo or with a friend or family member to join in sharing your support for climate action in Iowa. 

Upcoming Energy Events

3/2: Justice40 Advocacy at the State Level, MBDC and Emerald Cities 

3/3: Climate Strike at the Capitol

3/8: A Minnesota Case Study: Putting Energy Justice in Rate Cases, EPLC

3/21: Nonprofits and the Inflation Reduction Act, Winneshiek Energy District

3/27: MREA Solar Training Academy Application Deadline, MREA 

Have an relevant event we don't have listed here? Submit an event to be considered for our Event Calendar.

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Des Moines, Iowa 50309-2317

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