Jul 30, 2021 - News

Environmentalists fight to close Iowa coal plants

A photo of the MidAmerican's George Neal Center South plant near Sioux City.

MidAmerican's George Neal Center South plant near Sioux City. Photo courtesy of MidAmerican Energy

Environmental groups are ramping up pressure on MidAmerican Energy to shutter its coal plants in Iowa.

Why it matters: While the tug-of-war between financial interests and curbing the use of fossil fuels continues, the debate also raises questions about Iowa's access to reliable sources of energy — and how to accurately forecast our energy needs.

Driving the news: The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Utilities Board last month, accusing the state panel of neglecting its regulatory obligations.

  • The groups allege that the board refused to consider evidence about the need to retire two of MidAmerican's Sioux City coal plants: George Neal Center North and South.
  • The plants are outdated, dirty and cost ratepayers an extra $17M a year in unnecessary operating costs, scientists hired by the groups have testified.

What they're saying: MidAmerican plans to close its five coal plants by 2049, company spokesperson Geoff Greenwood told Axios.

  • Maintaining a diverse power portfolio that includes coal is important for the foreseeable future in times when sun or wind are not adequate, Greenwood said.
  • Yes, but: IEC believes MidAmerican can safely close the two Neal Center plants now without jeopardizing energy security, Steve Guyer, a policy specialist for the group, told us.

Be smart: MidAmerican and Alliant Energy are the state's two investor-owned electric utilities that supply power to most Iowans.

  • Both companies are transitioning to renewable fuels like wind and solar, and have decommissioned multiple units of their coal plants or converted them to natural gas in the last decade.
  • Alliant will convert its only solely owned Iowa coal plant in Burlington to natural gas by the end of this year, spokesperson Cindy Tomlinson told Jason. Other coal facilities where it’s a co-owner will be converted or taken out of its fleet by 2040.

The big picture: The environmental wheels may not be moving fast enough for some, but change is occurring.

  • More than 100 coal-fired plants have been closed or converted to natural gas since 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

What's next: The IEC is holding an education webinar on coal plants Aug. 18.

  • Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is planning a demonstration in Des Moines against MidAmerican's coal use, also on Aug. 18.
  • A Polk County District Court hearing in the lawsuit against the Iowa Utilities Board is slated for Oct. 8.

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