Tag Archives: coal

Coal retirement announcements top 1 gigawatt over last 12 months

The Iowa Environmental Council’s energy program focuses on speeding Iowa’s transition to cleaner sources of energy and away from polluting coal.  Recently, the Council shared information about how Iowa remains a national leader in wind energy and that the state’s solar energy marketplace is growing.

But Iowa is also making progress retiring coal-fired generation.  In fact, a recent announcement by Alliant energy that it will convert its M.L. Kapp station in Clinton to burn natural gas means that Iowa utilities have announced over one gigawatt of coal retirement in the last year.  These announcements include three Iowa plants involved in a settlement over Clean Air Act violations the Sierra Club reached with MidAmerican Energy last year.

The following table includes announcements for coal plants in Iowa during the past year that will either close or convert to natural gas:

Date Facility Operator Capacity involved
Dec-12 Campus coal station Iowa State University 31 MW
Jan-13 George Neal North 1 & 2 MidAmerican 497 MW
Jan-13 Walter Scott 1 & 2 MidAmerican 131 MW
Jan-13 Riverside MidAmerican 141 MW
Nov-13 Ames Electric Services Power Plant City of Ames 109 MW
Nov-13 Fair Station CIPCO 63 MW
Jan-14 M.L. Kapp Alliant 218 MW
Total in approximately 12 months: 1190 MW (about 1.2 GW)

Iowa’s energy choices extend beyond coal, natural gas, nuclear

As Iowans, utilities and policy makers make choices about which sources of electricity to rely upon, we are not constrained by a choice between coal, natural gas or nuclear. Instead, we are fortunate to have abundant and clean energy resources in Iowa to choose from.

By using a balanced mix of resources like energy efficiency, wind, solar, and combined heat and power, we can meet Iowa’s energy needs, phase out our use of coal, and improve our economy and environment.

Nathaniel Baer


Energy efficiency. A recent study commissioned by Iowa’s investor-owned utilities concluded that in the next 10 years, Iowa could use cost-effective energy efficiency measures to meet 20 percent of Alliant and MidAmerican’s electric sales. In context, this potential energy savings is more electricity than Iowa now uses from natural gas, hydro power and nuclear combined.

Solar. Iowa has not begun to scratch the surface of our potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy. A national study released in 2012 shows that Iowa has the technical potential to meet over 100 times our annual electric use with solar PV. We could utilize a small portion of this resource to meet 10 percent or 20 percent of our electric needs in the very near future.

Solar PV produces energy when we need it most — during the day, during afternoons and especially during hot summer afternoons — making solar PV a very valuable and useful resource. Solar prices have come down dramatically in recent years and that trend is expected to continue.

Recent projects by Luther College and the University of Northern Iowa demonstrate that larger-scale solar projects can succeed in Iowa.

Combined heat and power. Combined heat and power technologies generate two forms of energy — heat and electricity — at the same time, very efficiently, from a single fuel. Combined heat and power is a good match for the energy needs of a wide variety of larger energy users, such as schools, hospitals, universities and manufacturers.

Several recent studies have estimated Iowa’s technical potential for CHP to be between 1,675 megawatts and 2,709 megawatts — equivalent to as much as 40 percent of the coal power generation in Iowa today. Combined heat and power units operate at all times and can use natural gas, bio gas and biomass as fuel sources.

Wind. We know that Iowa is a leading state on wind energy. At the end of 2012, Iowa had over 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity installed, keeping Iowa in the top three of all states. Iowa’s wind potential is over 500,000 megawatts, which would produce vastly more electricity than we use today.

Iowa’s wind energy is economically competitive and typically meets local needs today, but it also feeds into a regional market for electricity. This is true of wind energy installed in other states as well.

In fact, by expanding our electric transmission lines and strengthening the regional grid, we can rely more and more on wind energy generated in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. On the rare days when there is not much wind in Iowa, there is often wind elsewhere in the region. By expanding transmission and enabling more wind generation, we will also save more money than we spend on that infrastructure — due to the economic strength of wind power and added efficiency of a better electric grid.

Iowa clearly has the clean energy resources to replace coal generation, and doing so will provide significant economic and environmental benefits. In addition to big cost savings from resources like energy efficiency, wind and transmission, we can expect new jobs as well. For example, building 300 megawatts of solar over five years would create nearly 5,000 new jobs in the fifth year alone. Building 20,000 megawatts of wind would create over 63,000 construction jobs and another 9,000 permanent jobs. Building just some of the proposed transmission lines will create between 3,700 and 8,700 direct construction jobs and up to 16,000 total jobs.

Realizing the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy requires more than a clear choice, however. It requires sound public policies and the political will to put them in place.

The author is energy program director of the Iowa Environmental Council.  This essay appeared in the Des Moines Register on March 9, 2013.

A step forward on Iowa’s path to clean energy sources

The Council was pleased to receive this important announcement from the Sierra Club concerning the end of the use of coal as a fuel at several existing MidAmerican Energy coal plants.  The Council has prioritized the retirement of existing coal plants and welcomes the Sierra Club’s settlement, which sets out concrete steps to help end the use of coal in Iowa.

Today, the Sierra Club and MidAmerican Energy Company announced a landmark settlement that requires the Iowa utility to phase out coal burning at seven coal-fired boilers, clean up another two coal-fired boilers and build a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.  The announcement also pushes the total amount of coal generation retired or announced to retire since 2010 to over 50,000 megawatts, almost one-sixth of the nation’s coal fleet.

In 2012, the Sierra Club notified MidAmerican that it was violating the federal Clean Air Act at its Walter Scott, Riverside and George Neal coal plants, by emitting more pollution than allowed by its permits. Today’s settlement filed in federal court in Iowa resolves those allegations. According to the Clean Air Task Force, air pollution from these three plants contributes to 45 deaths and 760 asthma attacks annually.

“Clean air, clean water and a booming clean energy economy are part of an Iowa legacy that I am proud to leave for my children and grandchildren,” said Pam Mackey Taylor, Chapter Energy Chair of the Sierra Club in Iowa. “Coal’s days are numbered here in Iowa. Pollution from MidAmerican’s coal-fired power plants causes major health problems in communities across Iowa. Retiring units at these coal plants and installing vital pollution controls at the remaining units will help Iowans breathe easier.”

The settlement between Sierra Club and MidAmerican Energy further cements Iowa’s position as a national clean energy leader. Iowa passed the first renewable energy standard in the country in 1983, decades before most states even considered similar standards. Iowa now ranks third in the nation in installed wind capacity, draws 22 percent of its electricity from wind energy and is a hub of wind component manufacturing in the Midwest. The wind industry employs 7,000 workers in Iowa, more than any other state.

“Big carbon pollution emitters like MidAmerican’s coal-fired power plants are contributing to the climate disruption causing this year’s historic drought across the Midwest,” said Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Beyond Coal campaign. “If we want to ensure that droughts do not become the new normal for Iowa, other utilities must follow suit to phase out coal imported from Wyoming and push Iowa’s strong home-grown clean energy development forward.”

Today’s announcement brings the total number of coal plants retired or announced to retire since 2010 to 130 plants and 50,717 megawatts, almost one sixth of the nation’s entire coal fleet. In 2009 these coal plants emitted more than 188 million metric tons of carbon pollution the equivalent annual emissions of more than 39 million passenger vehicles. These plants also emitted more than 7,600 pounds of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, and caused 6,000 heart attacks, 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature lives annually.

The preceding text is from a Sierra Club press release.