DES MOINES, IOWA (June 17, 2021) — Three environmental groups are appealing a decision by the Iowa Utilities Board to allow MidAmerican to evade review of its coal plants.
The lawsuit in Polk County District Court filed by the Iowa Environmental Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Sierra Club explains how the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) erred and abused its discretion by refusing to consider evidence on the need to retire two coal plants. The IUB ruled consideration of coal plant retirements was beyond the scope of the case, but past cases under the same law have frequently considered and approved coal plant retirements.
Iowa law requires biennial review of plans to manage coal plant emissions. The plans must manage the emissions cost-effectively, but MidAmerican’s plan ignored the option of retiring the coal plants to best meet emissions requirements.
Testimony to the IUB showed that closing two coal plants and replacing them with renewable energy is the most cost-effective way for MidAmerican Energy to meet its emissions requirements. Retiring Neal North (also called Neal 3) by the end of 2022 would lower the cost of energy by as much as 10% over ten years. Neal South (also known as Neal 4) costs customers even more; retiring it by 2022 could lead to a 23% savings over 10 years. MidAmerican did not dispute the conclusions.
“We know that coal plants are dirtier and more expensive than clean alternatives. Utilities have often addressed coal retirements as part of their emissions plans, and there is no reason this case should have been different,” said Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “MidAmerican claims to be making progress toward its 100% renewable vision, but MidAmerican cannot be 100% renewable until it retires its uneconomic coal plants.”
By concluding the coal plant retirement evidence was outside the scope of the case, the IUB avoided making any findings about whether the coal plants are unnecessarily costing customers more money. The environmental groups have raised the issue of coal plant costs in other recent cases before the IUB, but the IUB has repeatedly refused to address the issue.
“In this case, the Board pre-approved MidAmerican’s spending to keep coal plants running even though expert testimony showed it does not make sense for rate-payers,” said Kerri Johannsen, IEC Energy Program Director. “It is the IUB’s job to balance the interests of ratepayers against the profits of monopoly utilities. The Board’s decision in this case simply did not strike that balance.”
MidAmerican is the single largest carbon polluter in the state of Iowa. The company operates five coal plants in Iowa and is the majority owner of a sixth, and unlike other major utilities across the nation, has announced no plans to retire any of its coal plants in Iowa. The recently-filed case focuses on the two plants that financial analysis shows are the most expensive and least economic to operate.
“Operating the Neal Plants, which MidAmerican does not need to meet demand, has forced customers to pay millions in unnecessary costs,” said Katie Rock, the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Representative. “While the market and high operating-costs are driving other utilities to retire their coal plants, MidAmerican is sticking to coal to put money in the pockets of shareholders, no matter what it costs their rate-payers. Iowans deserve better.”
The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest's leading public-interest environmental legal-advocacy organization. We develop strategic campaigns to protect natural resources and improve environmental quality. Our multi-disciplinary staff employs teamwork approaches using legal, economic, and public policy tools to produce successes that improve our environment and economy. Learn more at www.elpc.org.
The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa's natural environment. Founded in 1995, it is the largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition in the state. Through education, advocacy, and coalition-building, the Council raises awareness, generates action, and creates large-scale change that makes Iowa a better place to live, work, and explore. Learn more at iaenvironment.org.
About the Sierra ClubThe Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information visit www.sierraclub.org.