Tag Archives: nuclear

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.

Iowa Senators Hogg and Bolkcom plan “MidAmerican customers: You are at risk” tour

On Tuesday, March 20, State Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) and State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) will travel to five major communities served by MidAmerican Energy to warn of higher utility bills if House File 561 is approved.  Under the bill, customers would likely pay hundreds of millions in higher utility bills for the licensing, permitting, and construction of a nuclear plant regardless of whether the plant ever produces any electricity.

Stops on the tour will include:

  •  9:00 a.m. – Bolkcom and Hogg in Des Moines, Room 116, State Capitol
  • 1:00 p.m. – Hogg in Sioux City, The Wilbur Aalfs (Main) Library, Gleeson Room, 529 Pierce Street
  • 4:00 p.m. – Hogg in Fort Dodge, Fort Dodge Area Senior Center, 617 Central Avenue
  • 11:30 a.m. – Bolkcom in Iowa City, Iowa City Public Library, Room D
  • 2:30 p.m. – Bolkcom in Davenport, Davenport Public Library, Main Branch, Downtown

Live tweets from the Senate Commerce Committee’s meeting.

Live tweets from the Senate Commerce Committee’s meeting.

The Senate Commerce Committee is discussing the nuclear bill, HF561, live now.  Follow the link for live tweets courtesy the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich.

Nuclear bill amendment fails to address Iowa Utilities Board staff concerns

Supporters of the nuclear legislation HF561/SF390 argue a new amendment to be debated tomorrow in the Senate Commerce Committee resolves the major concerns concerning this legislation.  But analysis by the Iowa Environmental Council reveals most of the content of the new amendment is simply carried over from a previous attempt to amend this legislation, filed as S-3380 on the last day of the 2011 session.

That means the Iowa Utilities Board Staff had seen most parts of the current amendment when they prepared an analysis criticizing this proposed legislation.  Below are some quotations from that report (emphasis added), which you can read in full here (pdf).

“Staff understands the intent of HF 561 is to make nuclear power plants a viable alternative source for future baseload power, particularly in an environment in which carbon emissions are constrained. In doing so, HF 561 causes significant shifts in both current energy policy and traditional ratemaking principles. While the current bill restricts those changes to nuclear power plants, staff believes some provisions of HF 561 may go beyond leveling the playing field and could give a nuclear power plant unintended advantages over alternative sources of electric power.” (page 6)

“This provision would exempt proposed nuclear plants from the existing requirement that a public utility that proposes a new plant must show that it has considered other feasible sources of long-term supply and the proposed plant is reasonable when compared to those alternatives.” (page 7)

And in case you missed it, a new analysis released today by national expert on nuclear plant financing, Mark Cooper, points out other ways the current amendment falls short.

National Expert: New amendments to nuclear power bill ‘do nothing’ to fix legislation’s flaws

In a statement released today, Mark Cooper, a Senior Fellow for Economic analysis at the Vermont Law School’s  Institute for Energy and the Environment argues that proposed amendments to the nuclear bill HF561/SF390 do not address fundamental flaws in the bill.  Here is Cooper’s statement, in full:

In a recent analysis of proposed legislation to allow advanced recovery of costs associated with construction of nuclear reactor in Iowa (Nuclear Socialism Comes to the Heartland of America, Early Cost Recovery for New Nuclear Reactors in Iowa and the Return of Electricity Rate Shock, February 2012) I concluded that

The proposal for advanced cost recovery in Iowa alters the most fundamental principle of rate setting by shifting the risk of construction so dramatically that the resulting scheme of cost recovery can best be described as “nuclear socialism.

The recent amendments proposed in the Senate Commerce Committee do nothing to fix the underlying flaws in the legislation.  Mid-American would still collects from ratepayers for years, or even decades before the reactor is used and useful at an excessive rate of return.  And all of the risk of nuclear cost and cost overruns would fall on ratepayers.  The harmful effects of these perverse incentives are still in place.

  • By conferring a special advantage on nuclear, it threatens to distort the utility and regulatory decision making process and gives utilities an incentive to choose investments and make construction decisions that harm ratepayers.
  • Beyond the initial choice of projects, shifting the risk of nuclear reactor construction onto the backs of ratepayers creates an ongoing problem because diminishes the incentive to drive a hard bargain with vendors that protects ratepayers or recover costs from joint owners.
  • By excusing nuclear reactors from rigorous comparative analysis of alternatives, it all but guarantees less costly alternatives will be passed over.
  • Because nuclear reactors are so risky and impossible to finance in normal capital market, the utilities are pushing for advanced and guaranteed recovery of all costs, but certainty denies regulators the flexibility that is needed in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment and ties the hands of the IUB in its efforts to balance the interest of ratepayers and utility shareholders.
  • The need to accelerate cost recovery creates severe intergenerational inequities in cost recovery, violating the fundamental principle that those who consume the output of a plant should bear its costs.
  • Having guaranteed utilities cost recovery on an annual basis, the IUB will be under greater pressure to approve “incremental” additions to cost even when those costs are the result of utility error.