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Iowa community leaders discuss options to meet clean energy targets, including franchise agreements and municipalization

Originally posted in IEC's newsroom on January 20, 2022

Iowa community leaders from across the state joined clean energy advocates last Thursday to learn more about options cities can engage to meet their community’s clean energy goals, including how to leverage energy franchise agreements or consider municipalization. 

Unlike individual Iowans who have no choice in their utility service, cities do have limited authority over the agreements they make for utility service. When their residents demand clean energy options, community leaders can leverage the franchise agreement process to communicate these demands. If a utility remains seriously off track, then a committed city can move to the next phase and consider forming a municipal utility. 

"When utilities like MidAmerican Energy are using confusing - even misleading - clean energy metrics that keep communities from achieving true 100% 24/7 carbon-free energy, cities should know they do have options if they are seeking clean energy commitments," said Steve Guyer, Energy and Climate Policy Specialist with the Iowa Environmental Council. "In addition to environmental benefits, homegrown carbon-free energy keeps costs low for residents and is a critical economic development tool for attracting and retaining a vibrant business community."

Recent analysis filed with the Iowa Utilities Board shows that MidAmerican Energy could save Iowans nearly $1.2 billion by retiring all of its coal plants by 2030. With monopoly service territories, what opportunities for change exist when investor-owned utilities are putting profits before the needs of customers?

Iowa Energy News 

Utility-scale solar project near Coggon receives green light

On Monday, Linn County Supervisors voted 2-1 to approve a 700-acre utility-scale solar project west of Coggon following a contentious public input process.

Over the life span of the project, the solar panels will generate enough energy to power over 18,000 homes and help Iowa’s transition toward 100% renewable energy. The project will create up to 300 construction jobs for local labor.

Linn County’s ordinance ensures the site will provide water quality and habitat benefits thanks to the inclusion of an agricultural impact mitigation plan, vegetation management plan, and a decommissioning plan with recycling requirements.

The approved plan features 300 feet setbacks from other properties not part of the project—not the 1,250 feet proposed earlier in the process. The solar panel height also will be scaled back to the original 18 inches that were initially proposed. Construction is set to begin this spring.

Court dismisses testimony that could reduce emissions and save Iowans money

Last year IEC and our partners challenged a decision by the Utilities Board that did not consider evidence that MidAmerican’s coal plants should retire. Expert testimony we filed in the case showed that customers would save money if the coal plants retired early, and there was no reason to keep operating them.

After hearing arguments by both sides, in December the Polk County District Court upheld the IUB decision. This means customers miss out on the cost savings from retiring the coal plants and potentially lets them operate for years to come. The Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate requested reconsideration of the court decision and the court will hold a hearing on Friday to address that motion.

IEC reacts to MidAmerican Energy Wind PRIME announcement

This month, MidAmerican Energy announced plans for a $3.9 billion renewable energy project in Iowa, including wind and solar generation. The proposed  Wind PRIME project would add just over 2,000 megawatts of wind generation, 50 megawatts of solar generation, and explore emerging clean energy technologies. The company states that the added wind alone would allow it to provide renewable energy equal to its Iowa customers’ annual usage.
Kerri Johannsen, IEC's energy program director, weighed in on the announcement in a story from the Des Moines Register, saying IEC welcomes MidAmerican's "aggressive deployment of renewables. On the whole, however, we continue to question any discussion of MidAmerican’s 100% clean energy plan when this announcement does not mention any reduction in fossil-fuel generation," Johannsen shares.

Given the large price tag, IEC wants to see more details about how MidAmerican will address affordability when looking at new technologies. "Zero carbon is the bar that must be met," she said, "but it’s important to keep in mind that customers ultimately pay for all of this."

Des Moines carbon-free energy goal, now a year old, was a beginning, not an end

January 11, 2022, marked the one-year anniversary of the Des Moines City Council’s unanimous adoption of a resolution setting a goal of 24/7 carbon-free electricity by 2035. This resolution garnered national attention and instantly made the City of Des Moines a national and global leader in combatting climate change and setting ambitious and comprehensive clean energy goals.  

The significance of Des Moines’ 24/7 clean energy goal compared to other 100% clean energy initiatives is that it requires all the electricity used in Des Moines to come from clean energy generation around-the-clock, rather than a mix of clean energy and fossil fuel sources that may be 100% clean energy at limited times. Such a narrow clean energy vision was a good first step, but the urgency of addressing climate change means a new kind of policy is needed—one that will meet the challenge of achieving real, zero-carbon electricity. 

Read the full story for a complete reflection on this milestone from Matt Ohloff, IEC's Clean Communities Manager, and Kari Carney with the Des Moines Task Force on Sustainability.

Iowa Coal Power Plant Economic Impact Study

In 2021, IEC commissioned a study with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to examine the local economic, fiscal, and social impact of the remaining utility-owned coal-fired power plants in the state to help local and state decision-makers better understand and plan for the clean energy transition. Watch this video from the study's lead, Eric Christianson for an overview of the study, its key findings, and what it means for Iowa's coal communities.

Take Action


Tell the IUB: Protect Iowans - Hold MidAmerican Accountable

As climate threats multiply and high energy bills hit, this is your chance to ask the Iowa Utilities Board to hold MidAmerican Energy accountable to protect the climate, protect Iowans’ health, and save customers money.

A recent analysis showed MidAmerican could lower its emissions by 90% and save its customers a minimum of $1.2 BILLION by retiring its coal fleet by 2030 and replacing it with renewables. This clearly shows that MidAmerican's current plan to keep running its six Iowa coal plants indefinitely is both economically and environmentally irresponsible.

Iowans should not have to pay billions in extra energy bills while facing mounting healthcare costs and escalating climate impacts. MidAmerican Energy must make a plan now to retire its coal plants by 2030 and the IUB can make that happen. Let them know - the time is NOW.

This issue is currently before the IUB and we encourage you to share your thoughts. Use the button below to visit our website for examples of talking points and to view a short instructional video on how to submit those comments.

IEC Energy Events and Activities

Strong renewable siting ordinances are an important part of clean energy expansion here in our state. IEC recently kicked off a renewable energy siting webinar series for a review of wind siting best practices for local officials. Registration is now open for our upcoming wind ordinance webinar on February 9 at 1 PM.  Share with your local leadership or register to attend.

Visit IEC's YouTube page to view a recording of the solar ordinance webinar which took place earlier this month.

On Thursday, February 10 from 5:30-7:00 PM, Iowa City residents are invited to join 100% Iowa at the Iowa City Public Library for I Heart Climate Action: Community Advocacy and Letter Writing Event. During this Valentines-themed event, attendees with get to learn more about Iowa City's 24/7 carbon-free energy initiative, hear from local guest speakers, and write "love letters" to area officials on behalf of climate action! Postcards, snacks, and refreshments will be provided. Register today to secure your spot!

IEC Legislative Events

Each legislative session presents opportunities to advocate for Iowa’s environment. During this year's event, attendees will hear from environmental advocates and legislators about current environmental issues at the Capitol this session, have a chance to participate in a free advocacy training session, ask questions, and network with other Iowans engaged in this work. Individuals and organizations can register now to participate in the 2022 Virtual Environmental Advocacy Day on Wednesday, February 16 from 8:30 - 11:00 a.m.

If you like live music and mixed drinks, paired with exciting conversations and activities connected to advocacy, you should make plans to virtually attend IEC's second annual Environmental Mixology on Thursday, February 24 from 7 - 8:30 p.m.

Attendees will enjoy live music, get instructions from our mixologist on how to mix your drinks, then enjoy a program and discussion before taking action by writing a postcard to your state legislators.

Upcoming Energy Events

1/26 - Accelerating Cold Climate Heat Pumps Technology and Adoption in the Midwest, US Department of Energy

1/27 - Best Development Awards Ceremony, 1000 Friends of Iowa

2/1 - Midwest Energy Solutions Conference, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance

2/2 - Comprehensive Planning with Climate in Mind, 1000 Friends of Iowa

2/3 - Rare Conversations: Stories from the Frontlines of Climate Change, RARE

2/4 - Transit Equity Day

2/9 - Wind Rules: Updated Siting Ordinances for Local Officials, IEC

2/10 - 100% Iowa's I Heart Climate Action: Iowa City

2/16 - IEC's Virtual Environmental Advocacy Day 

2/21 - Iowa Climate Strike, Des Moines

2/24 - IEC's Environmental Mixology

Have an upcoming event we don't have listed here? Send it to us at iecmail@iaenvironment.org

505 Fifth Ave. Suite 850 
Des Moines, Iowa 50309-2317

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