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Environmental Groups Applaud Supreme Court Order Making Clear that Iowa Utilities Board Has Authority to Review Coal Plant Economics

Originally published on 4/28/23 in IEC's newsroom

The Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion in favor of three environmental groups’ position in a challenge to an Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) order that limited its ability to review the cost-effectiveness of MidAmerican Energy’s coal plants. The court reversed the Board’s order and sent the case back to the IUB.

State law requires the IUB to evaluate MidAmerican and Alliant’s plans to manage emissions from their coal plants, as well as the costs associated with those plans. Once approved, the utilities can then recover the costs of those plans from customers. The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC), Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), and Sierra Club appealed an IUB ruling that excluded evidence showing that retiring two coal plants was a cost-effective way for MidAmerican to manage its emissions. 

The environmental groups provided independent analysis showing that it would be cost-effective for MidAmerican to retire two uneconomic coal plants and replace them with clean energy, rather than continuing to spend money on coal plant pollution controls at plants that are already losing money. Rather than considering that evidence, the IUB said that consideration of coal plant retirements was outside the scope of the statute — even though utilities had decided to retire coal plants as an emissions management strategy in past cases. The Board’s order indicated that it would consider coal plant retirements only where the utility proposed to do so. 

"The state Supreme Court’s decision is a common sense recognition that sometimes the most cost-effective way to manage air pollution is to stop emitting it," said Michael Schmidt, IEC Staff Attorney. "The Neal North and South coal plants are extremely expensive sources of electricity, and the evidence shows that the least-cost way to manage their emissions is to retire the plants."

Iowa Energy News 

After initial denial, Iowa Utilities Board preapproves Duane Arnold Solar projects

The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) has preapproved the Duane Arnold Solar projects, reversing their initial denial. The project will be developed by NextEra Energy, and will generate 480 megawatts of solar power.

The IUB's initial denial was due to concerns over costs and the need for further evaluation. However, after reconsideration, the board recognized the economic benefits, job creation, and the potential for reduced carbon emissions associated with the solar projects.

The approval marks a significant step in Iowa's transition towards renewable energy, aligning with the state's goal of increasing its clean energy generation capacity. The project is expected to commence operations by 2024, contributing to Iowa's growing renewable energy sector.

An EPA proposal to (almost) eliminate climate pollution from power plants

The EPA recently proposed its strongest-ever climate rules for the power sector — which contributes a quarter of U.S. carbon emissions. ️

IEC's energy program director, Kerri Johannsen, shares what this news means for the future of coal in Iowa. "The new proposed power plant pollution rules would require MidAmerican to commit to enforceable retirement dates for its coal plants. Most importantly, this rule creates a badly-needed opportunity for MidAmerican to develop a plan to address a transition away from coal that works for Iowa's workers, health, and pocketbooks."

IEC has long called for MidAmerican Energy to close its coal plants by 2030, and this proposal would put the company on the path toward doing so. Read more here on the EPA's proposal to clamp down on power plant pollution

IUB protects customers from risks with MidAmerican's Wind PRIME proposal

In late April, state regulators approved MidAmerican Energy's $3.9 billion Wind PRIME project, but added conditions that environmental groups say better protect consumers and require more analysis on the utility's clean-energy transition.

The ruling states that customers will not be forced to pay for costs related to the development of new wind projects until they are operational. This decision safeguards consumers from shouldering upfront costs for projects that may not come to fruition or face delays. 

The IUB ruling ensures that customers are protected and that the financial burden is appropriately allocated, encouraging the continued growth of renewable energy in Iowa. It highlights the importance of balancing clean energy goals with consumer protection.

Featured Video

Rally for a Coal-Free Future Recap

People from Iowa and Nebraska came together in early May for a rally outside Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholder meeting in Omaha to call them out for MidAmerican Energy's toxic coal plants. Watch this quick recap video on YouTube, then join the movement at www.cleanupmidam.com!

Upcoming IEC Events

Join us for Pro H2O's 10th Anniversary

Clean energy and clean water go hand-in-hand towards creating a just, healthy environment and sustainable future for all Iowans. Gather in downtown Des Moines at the River Center or in West O Beer in Okoboji to celebrate ten years of clean water advocacy through Pro H2O with us on Thursday, June 15! 

We will celebrate Iowans making a difference for clean water with live music, food and drink, and award presentations for Lifetime Achievement, Impact Through Advocacy, Business Innovation, and more — get your tickets now!

Upcoming Energy Events

5/25: Building Decarbonization 101 Training, MWBDC 

6/1: Green Drinks – Des Moines, Urban Ambassadors 

6/10: Spot the Hot kickoffIowa City 

6/13: NERC Summer Reliability Assessment Can the Grid Take the Heat?, ACORE 

6/18: Science Festival Trail, Science Iowa – West Des Moines 

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