Iowa

Press Release: Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Environmental Groups Push MidAmerican Energy to Commit to a Comprehensive Clean Energy Transition

Call for Wind XII Approval to Require Coal Retirements

 

Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center filed testimony with the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) in MidAmerican Energy’s Wind XII docket. Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council, provided the testimony on behalf of both groups, calling for approval of the additional wind to include requirements for equivalent coal capacity retirements. The groups also strongly recommended MidAmerican outline a process for a comprehensive clean energy transition that includes wind, solar, storage and demand side resources such as energy efficiency and demand response.

MidAmerican is touting Wind XII as the final project in the 100% Renewable Vision the company announced in 2016. However, MidAmerican has not announced a single coal plant retirement since setting this benchmark. The company owns and operates five coal plants in Iowa with a total of 3,740 MW of nameplate capacity and is majority owner of the 725 MW Ottumwa Generating Station.

According to 2016 data from the Energy Information Administration, this level of capacity puts MidAmerican’s coal fleet in the top 20 largest fleets of any utility in the country — at 19 — out of the 164 companies that own at least 100MW of coal generation. Construction of new coal plants is not cost-effective and utilities around the U.S. are announcing coal retirements on an almost daily basis. By betting on coal, MidAmerican will only climb in this undesirable ranking.

“The state of Iowa and MidAmerican’s wind energy leadership is commendable,” said Josh Mandelbaum, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “However, a comprehensive clean energy vision requires a plan for retiring dirty coal plants and replacing them with a diverse mix of renewable resources including wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency.”

MidAmerican filed its proposal for Wind XII on May 30, 2018. Wind XII is a 591 MW, $922 million project that would be completed by late 2020.

Wind generation provides significant benefits including hedging risks from fuel price volatility and geo-political uncertainty, environmental benefits, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.  However, as Johannsen points out, “[m]any benefits MidAmerican claims for Wind XII are unlikely to occur unless coupled with retirement of coal capacity.”

Utilities around the country have begun proposing comprehensive clean energy transition plans. Johannsen’s testimony summarizes several examples of utilities retiring coal plants and replacing them with a mix of wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency including Xcel Energy in Colorado, Consumers Energy in Michigan, and MidAmerican’s sister Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries, NV Energy and PacifiCorp.

Iowa’s wind leadership helped the state attract companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook that wanted to invest in a state that offered affordable, renewable energy for their power needs. Says Johannsen, “To remain competitive, Iowa utilities must not settle for the status quo, but instead continue to show leadership in clean energy innovation or the state will fall behind other emerging leaders.”

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Energy News Network: Iowa Governor Signs Bill Critics Say Will ‘Eviscerate’ Efficiency Programs

May 7, 2018
Iowa Governor Signs Bill Critics Say Will ‘Eviscerate’ Efficiency Programs
By Karen Uhlenhuth

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Friday that critics say could largely evaporate utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs in the state.

The new law caps spending on the programs at levels substantially less than what utilities now spend. It also allows certain customers to stop paying fees that support the programs, and it omits rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, which serve about one-third of Iowa customers, from having to offer any programs.

The bill also takes a swipe at solar installations by allowing municipal utilities to discriminate against customers with their own generation. Iowa’s 136 municipal utilities serve about 216,000 customers, or 13.5 percent of all electricity customers in the state.

Kerri Johannsen, who lobbied against the bill on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council, wrote in a statement that “utilities will sell more power and Iowans will pay more out of their paycheck for energy. Utilities are the only winner here — businesses and citizens across Iowa will pay the price of this action.”

Josh Mandelbaum, a lawyer with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said, “For energy efficiency policy in Iowa, for all practical purposes, we’re at the point where we will need to start over. The policy has been eviscerated enough that we just have poor to non-existent energy-efficiency policy at this point.”

Mandelbaum and Johannsen said the legislation runs counter to the Iowa Energy Plan, a policy document crafted in a process lead by Gov. Reynolds, who was then Iowa’s lieutenant governor. The plan, published in late 2016, endorsed, among other strategies, state policies that encourage greater energy efficiency.

The state’s two major investor-owned utilities could not be reached over the weekend, but the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives released a statement Friday pronouncing the bill good for rural electric customers.

“Iowa’s electric cooperatives will continue to offer energy efficiency programs to member-owners,” said Steve Seidl, board president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperative. “We will further our commitment to environmental stewardship and renewable energy. The newly signed legislation will ensure that our energy efficiency programs are cost-effective — meaning that co-op member-owners aren’t footing the bill for a program that isn’t financially responsible.”

Most states require utilities to spend money subsidizing efficient products and technologies such as LED lighting and high-efficiency appliances. The programs help lower bills for participants as well as all utility customers by delaying the need for more expensive infrastructure projects.

The Iowa bill would cap spending on energy efficiency at 2 percent of annual sales for electricity utilities and 1.5 percent of sales of natural gas utilities. It also would limit expenditures on demand response programs at 2 percent of sales.

Johannsen estimates that utility spending on reducing electricity use will fall by between 50 and 70 percent. The reduction in natural gas efficiency programs, at close to 90 percent, “is going to be devastating,” she predicted.

Mandelbaum said that in light of the law’s passage, the state’s two major investor-owned utilities, MidAmerican Energy and Interstate Power & Light, indicated they will revise the five-year energy-efficiency plans they filed with the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this year.

Interstate’s plan ranked slightly above 1 on the Ratepayer Impact Test, meaning opt-out is not an option. MidAmerican’s plan scores below 1, meaning opt-out is available at present.

“MidAmerican said they would file something where opt-out would not end up happening,” Mandelbaum said. But the only way, under the current law, for MidAmerican to hike its score is to cut lower-scoring parts of the energy-efficiency program, he said.

“So it’s a lose-lose. You either allow opt-out, and that cuts funding for programs that do exist, or you cut programs so there is no opt-out. Either way, it’s bad for the programs.”

Mandelbaum said clean-energy supporters will express their views on the two utilities’ energy-efficiency plans as they move through the state regulatory process. And more broadly, they will “think about what options we may have going forward.”

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Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

 

Update: Second Bill Emerges in Iowa to Cut Energy Efficiency Programs

By Karen Uhlenhuth

Another threat to energy conservation programs has emerged in the Iowa Legislature.

One week after a bill to repeal utilities’ energy efficiency requirements surfaced in the state Senate, a broad public utility reform bill is set to reach a subcommittee Thursday.

The study bill (SSB3093) would let large industrial customers opt out of efficiency programs, allow utilities to apply a different cost-effectiveness formula, and also require each initiative be cost-effective on its own instead of evaluating the portfolio as a whole. It would also cap efficiency spending at 2 percent of a utilities’ revenue.

“It’s a significant scaling back of energy efficiency, and a step away from our leadership on energy efficiency,” Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Josh Mandelbaum said.

The bill, set to be discussed in a Commerce subcommittee meeting Thursday, was introduced by State Sen. Jake Chapman with support from Interstate Power & Light, one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities.

Chapman did not respond to an interview request.

Interstate Power spokesman Justin Foss responded to questions about the bill with a brief statement:

“Iowa has been a pioneer in renewable energy and energy policy, providing economic growth for the state. To maintain this leadership position, Iowa needs updated policies to continue to promote the integration of new energy technologies, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, help customers save money, and provide even more opportunities for business growth and job creation.”

Other supporters include Black Hills Energy, a smaller investor-owned utility, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, and the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. MidAmerican Energy is seeking similar changes in its next five-year energy efficiency plan, now under consideration by the Iowa Utilities Board.

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OpEd Des Moines Register: Iowa Cities Can Drive Climate Action with Paris Accord in Flux

Iowa Cities can Drive Climate Action with Paris Accord in Flux
by Howard A. Learner

While President Trump steps back from climate reality by withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, mayors in Iowa and across our country are stepping up to fill the void.

The recent North American Climate Summit brought together 50-plus mayors to sign the Chicago Climate Charter, committing to take initiatives to help meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s pollution reduction goals.

Now is the time for these municipal declarations of support to become real solutions to climate change problems. In short, take effective actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together.

Des Moines, Dubuque, Fairfield, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and other municipalities have pledged to seize opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Growing local solar energy, storage and energy efficiency creates jobs, saves money, attracts investment and avoids carbon pollution. Local energy production keeps energy dollars in our communities, instead of paying to import electricity generated by coal, gas and uranium. Clean electric vehicles and buses in municipal fleets reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and avoid pollution. Improving energy efficiency in city buildings saves taxpayer money, reduces pollution and lessens maintenance costs.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is proud that many Iowa cities are saying they want to be part of global climate change solutions. We will work with cities to adopt high-value actions to reduce carbon pollution in ways that are tailored to Iowans and set strong goals. Here are three ways that Iowa cities can transform their public commitments into meaningful climate actions:

Achieve 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022: Iowa is a wind power champion, and solar energy and energy storage capacity are accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Iowa cities can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by using locally produced wind power and solar energy plus storage, purchasing clean renewable energy from third parties, and securing renewable energy credits from new wind and solar projects.

Clean up municipal fleets: All new purchases should be electric vehicles (except in special cases). Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more greenhouse gas pollution than the electric power sector, which is finally moving on a cleaner path. Iowa cities should buy electric vehicles (EV) or other zero-emission vehicles for non-emergency fleets. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. EV operating costs are lower and more predictable. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system.

Rapidly improve municipal building energy efficiency: Smart energy efficiency investments produce cost savings and less pollution. Why wait? Many payback periods are short and the savings come fast. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a no-brainer cost-saver and pollution-reducer. Antiquated HVAC systems and old appliances waste money and allow more pollution. Smart energy efficiency products, technologies and controls are available. The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements.

Iowa cities are leading by saying that they’ll step up with climate actions. The hard and most important work now comes next: transforming these declarations and sincere aspirations into real actions that reduce carbon pollution.

Cities can seize climate action opportunities by moving forward with these three specific initiatives for clean energy, clean transportation and energy efficiency that will produce significant pollution reduction results. Let’s work together to turn words into deeds, achieve economic and environmental benefits together, and help advance the Paris Climate Accord goals.

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The Daily Yonder: ELPC’s Olsen Hopes Paris Accord Pullout Doesn’t Hamper Successful Rural Clean Energy Projects

The Daily Yonder

USDA Climate Change Approach Faces Diminished Role, Worrying Many AG Leaders 

 June 6, 2017

By Bryce Oates

As the President withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords and outlines budget priorities, critics worry about a directional shift with USDA Climate Change.

President Trump announced that the U. S. would “pull out” of the Paris Climate Accords last week, signaling a clear direction for his Administration’s approach to the challenge of a changing, more energy-charged climate.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the move, stating, “President Trump promised that he would put America first and he has rightly determined that the Paris accord was not in the best interests of the United States. In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty. The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major world economies were not being held to the same stringent standards as the United States.”

The news does not please some members of the agricultural community, who believe that USDA should be a partner and supporter of efforts to assist farmers in addressing climate change.

“The withdrawal continues a troubling trend,” said Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The young farmers we represent, to see their President speak about climate change this way, to walk away from progress we’re making on climate resiliency, progress farmers are making to cut emissions and develop on-the-ground solutions, it’s demoralizing. It’s just incredibly discouraging.”

NYFC’s members have already moved on in the discussion about climate change as a reality according to Bahrenburg. They see the evidence every day, with hotter summers, warmer winters, more intense droughts, more intense floods. Their project, Conservation Generation, seeks to assist farmers in the arid West with tools and resources to remain viable in a water-constrained environment.

“While we remain committed to working with Secretary Perdue, he has defended proposed cuts to key conservation programs, cuts to scientific research, a 30% reduction to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program,” said Bahrenburg. He said that a group of young farmers are traveling to Washington, DC, this week to discuss their opinion with policymakers.

“All of these actions, the budget proposal, walking away from the global community, leaving the Paris Accords, taken together form a real indication of where USDA is headed,” said Tom Driscoll, Director of Conservation Policy for the National Farmers Union. “It’s a scary proposition.”

Driscoll said that many NFU members utilize the climate research and data presented by the Climate Hubs, originating in the Obama Administration. And NFU member families often participate in USDA’s REAP Program, both as farmers and workers for solar companies utilizing REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program) grants. REAP funding, which support renewable energy projects in rural communities, was singled out to be eliminated in the Trump Agriculture budget.

“This is a very, very sensitive time for farmers. There’s a credit crisis upon us. Prices and farm income are low. Choking off programs that deliver cost savings for farmers, that help them to become clean energy producers, undermining the information and tools that help farmers stay in business, it’s just irresponsible for them to behave this way.”

“The Administration’s proposal to eliminate farm bill funding for REAP is not only short-sighted from a climate change adaptation and mitigation perspective, it is also completely counter to their budget narrative,” said Greg Fogel, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in an email to Daily Yonder.

“We’ve heard a lot about agriculture needing to ‘do more with less,” and that is exactly what REAP does. This program puts farmers in the driver’s seat by giving them more control over their energy usage and costs, and helping them to reduce both. In a time when the agricultural economy is in downturn, that kind of independence and control is more important than ever,” said Fogel.

Others have also applauded previous USDA actions related to climate change and energy programs. “We have a program here that helps establish energy projects in rural Wisconsin dairies, for poultry farms of the Southeast, for cattle producers all over America. REAP serves every state, every agricultural sector, and has strong bipartisan support. We hope it continues,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Olsen said that he sees rural projects and programs working to create jobs and cut carbon emissions across the board, particularly due to USDA participation and focus. “Programs that cut energy costs for farmers, that increase local energy production through solar and wind, that increase economic investment and activity, that increase jobs in rural America, what’s not to like about that,” asked Olsen, questioning the Trump Administration’s budget priorities.

When presented with these questions about the Trump USDA’s approach to climate change, a USDA spokesperson told the Daily Yonder through email:

“The President has proposed his budget, and now the appropriators in Congress will make their mark on it. We cannot know what form the final budget will take, and so it is premature to comment on the specific impacts it may have on any USDA program. Secretary Perdue has communicated to all USDA staff that there is no sense in sugar coating the budget, but he will be as transparent as possible throughout the budget process.”

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Press Release: New Report Reveals Illinois & Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways, Mississippi River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center
JNemes@elpc.org 312-795-3706

Kim Knowles, Prairie Rivers Network
KKnowles@prairierivers.org 314-341-1641

New Report Reveals Illinois and Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways
Environmental Coalition Calls on EPA to Step Up Efforts to Reduce Nutrient Pollution in Mississippi River

Mississippi River – The Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC) today released a report that implores the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take specific actions to clean up nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Illinois and nine other states, because those states have failed to make sufficient pollution reductions. The 10 states included in the report all border the Mississippi River and send their pollution to the river and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.

The report, “Decades of Delay,” was prepared by MRC, a partnership of 13 environmental and legal groups, and assesses state progress in reducing the pollution that threatens drinking water supplies for millions of Americans and causes the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

The report finds that nitrogen and phosphorus continue to pose serious threats to Illinois waters, interfering with the public’s use and enjoyment, and threatening the health of people and aquatic life. Illinois lakes have been especially devastated by phosphorus pollution.

“EPA’s hands-off approach is simply not working in Illinois. Every summer our lakes and beaches are fouled by noxious, smelly and sometimes toxic algal blooms,” said Kim Knowles, Staff Attorney at Prairie Rivers Network. “The state lacks a rigorous program for addressing this scourge.”

“For 20 years, we have been told the EPA and the states would address the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that fouls our rivers and lakes and perpetuates the Gulf Dead Zone,” said Jessica Dexter, Staff Attorney, Environmental Law & Policy Center, an MRC member. “This report demonstrates the falsity of that claim. EPA should use the tools outlined in the report to uphold the Clean Water Act and get us on a path to clean rivers and streams.”

The report suggests six specific steps EPA can take to protect human health and water quality in state waters. Recommendations include setting numeric limits of allowable nitrogen and phosphorus in state waters, assessing more waterways to determine the full extent and impact of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and making sure states develop rigorous plans for reducing pollution and for procuring the funding needed to address this significant problem.

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Decades of Delay Executive Summary
Decades of Delay Full Report

Press Release: Iowa Enviro Groups Alarmed by Vote to Change Clean Water Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 10, 2016

Contact:  Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org

Iowa Enviro Groups Alarmed by Vote to Change Clean Water Standards
Rushed rule-making process significantly weakens water quality protections

DES MOINES – Two of Iowa’s leading environmental groups warn today’s Iowa Environmental Protection Commission unanimous vote to adopt changes to – and weaken — the state’s clean water anti-degradation standards will likely lead to more pollution and undermine the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

In an unusual move, Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources recommended emergency implementation of the rule change. The amended guidelines are slated to go into effect on Friday, August 12.

Representatives from the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) attended the Wednesday meeting to reiterate concerns that the proposed changes would represent a big step backward in the state’s clean water efforts. The groups previously spoke against the proposed changes at the Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting in July, the public hearing in June and the EPC meeting in May, and submitted written comments outlining concerns. The groups have suggested a stakeholder process to develop further guidance to address other stakeholder concerns without weakening existing clean water protections.

“DNR has made no effort to bring stakeholders together to address these changes, and as a result, the final rules have significant problems,” said Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney in ELPC’s Des Moines office.

“Iowa’s anti-degradation standards were developed over the course of nearly two years with input from environmental, business, industry and utility groups,” said IEC Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg. “As a result, the standards were strong, but reasonable, and balanced economic and environmental concerns. That balance has shifted.”

In March, a district court judge sided with the IEC and ELPC in a case that compels DNR to appropriately enforce Iowa’s anti-degradation standards – a pillar of the Clean Water Act designed to prevent unnecessary new pollution.

Per the ruling, DNR must ensure that projects seeking permits to add new pollution to a waterway have considered and appropriately accounted for the environmental benefits of less polluting alternatives, and that less polluting alternatives cannot be eliminated based on cost alone.

In response, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and Iowa League of Cities filed a petition for rulemaking, and DNR recommended changes based on the petition to the EPC in May. The amendment removes the provision requiring consideration of environmental benefits before eliminating less polluting alternatives, replacing the existing case-by-case approach with a one-size-fits-all approach based on cost alone. The change opens the door for Environmental Protection Agency intervention.

ELPC and IEC were instrumental in shaping Iowa’s strong but reasonable anti-degradation standards. Both groups have regularly filed public comments and met with DNR officials about the proper consideration of Iowa’s anti-degradation standards since 2013. DNR’s lack of action on these concerns led to the Council’s decision to have ELPC file a petition for judicial review on its behalf in the state District Court. That victory was the first legal case addressing the enforcement of Iowa’s anti-degradation standards since the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the standards in 2014.

The EPC’s vote in favor of the petition for rule change will head to the Administrative Rules Review Committee of the Iowa Legislature for approval. EPA will also need to approve these rule changes.

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Cedar Rapids Gazette Editorial: Agreement with ELPC’s Mandelbaum Assertion that Process for Rule Change to Weaken Water Quality Standards Moving too Quickly

Cedar Rapids Gazette

Put the brakes on changes to clean water rules in Iowa

Staff Editorial
Aug 9, 2016

Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission is poised to make an important decision this week with blinding speed and too little input from the public and stakeholders.

The commission is scheduled Wednesday to take up a major change in Iowa’s anti-degradation rules, which are designed to protect our waterways from new, unnecessary pollution from point sources such as factories and wastewater facilities.

Iowa’s robust standards call for a three-part analysis of construction proposals that would increase pollution to Iowa waterways, including a cost-benefit analysis of alternative, polution-reducing designs.

In March, a District Court judge ruled that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had failed to enforce that standard, a victory for environmental groups but a defeat for businesses and municipalities who contend the cost-benefit analysis is too difficult and expensive to calculate without clear methodology or process from the state.

The DNR contends those costs are tough to figure. Members of the Iowa Environmental Council who met with our editorial board last week say they are more than willing to sit down with DNR, cities and others to find a reasonable path forward. Instead, the EPC is moving to simply strike the cost-benefit analysis from the rules, limiting the cost of new antipollution measures at treatment plants to 115 percent of their base control costs. Left out of the equation is the cost of dirty water, or the value of reducing pollution.

The EPC is attempting to adopt the rule change on an “emergency” basis. So if it’s approved Wednesday, the new rule takes effect on Friday. The DNR did allow a public comment period in June and early July, but this still seems like an unwarranted summertime rush job.

“This is the fastest I’ve seen rule-making move,” Josh Mandelbaum, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center told us last week.

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Des Moines Register: Rate Agreement Moves MidAmerican Closer to $3.6 Billion Wind Project

 

By Donnelle Eller

MidAmerican Energy, environmental groups and large tech companies reached a rate agreement over the Des Moines-based utility’s plan to invest $3.6 billion in wind energy.

The settlement, which goes to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration, lowers from 11.5 percent to 11 percent the return MidAmerican would receive from its investment in 2,000 megawatts of wind energy generation.

Among other changes in the settlement, MidAmerican Energy agreed to not sell to other states, utilities or businesses renewable energy credits from the large project when customers choose to claim green energy use.

That’s important to companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, all of which have large data centers in Iowa that are large energy users. Environmentalists have pushed big social media, software and internet search companies to reduce their reliance on power generated from fossil fuels.

“We are pleased that all of MidAmerican’s customers will benefit from this settlement,” said Doug Gross, a Des Moines attorney representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft. “We look forward to continuing to work with MidAmerican to ensure that customers have a voice in decisions that affect Iowa’s energy future.”

The project, MidAmerican said, “will bring significant environmental and economic benefits to our customers and the state of Iowa without the need to ask for a rate increase.”

Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center, also involved in settlement discussions, applauded the agreement as well.

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Midwest Energy News: Biggest Wind Project in Iowa History Back on Track

By Karen Uhlenhuth, Midwest Energy News

The largest proposed wind energy project in Iowa’s history appears to be back on track this week after a tense period when it seemed the deal might fall apart over differences between a utility and large energy users.

On Tuesday, MidAmerican Energy — the utility pursuing the $3.6 billion Wind XI project — reached an accord with several major customers that objected to the plan, including tech giants Google, Microsoft and Facebook and a group of large industrial customers known as the Iowa Business Energy Coalition (IBEC).

MidAmerican President Bill Fehrman said in testimony filed with state regulators that, based on the companies’ objections, he found it “hard to conclude that the Data Centers and IBEC want MidAmerican to develop Wind XI.”

The large customers testified about a range of concerns with the proposal, including MidAmerican’s approach to modeling, the amount of power the utility projected its turbines would produce, the return on equity that MidAmerican was requesting and the treatment of environmental credits resulting from the production of renewable energy.

In the settlement, the customers and MidAmerican agreed to an 11 percent return on equity, slightly less than the 11.5 percent that MidAmerican initially had requested. The customers wanted a 9.5 percent return. And the two sides agreed to assign the environmental benefits of Wind XI to the various classes of customers, based on each class’ kilowatt-hour sales.

Like MidAmerican, the Iowa Environmental Council had expressed concerns that the changes proposed by the industrial customers and data centers could prove fatal to the project.

In a blog post late last month, the council’s energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, wrote: “While no party appears to have explicitly opposed Wind XI, the changes recommended by several interveners, including the data centers and IBEC, could cause Wind XI to be smaller or, at worst, not to be built at all.”

In written testimony, Fehrman said he was surprised that large customers challenged the project, given that they never expressed opinions in any of the 10 previous wind projects developed by MidAmerican.

The objections also appeared to fly in the face of the companies’ history of supporting renewable energy. All three companies have made significant investments in renewable power, including in Iowa, and have indicated they eventually intend to power all of their operations with renewable electricity.

In 2014, Google signed a deal with MidAmerican to purchase 407 megawatts of wind energy to power a new data center in Iowa. A year ago, Facebook announced that it was expanding with a third data center in Altoona, Iowa. The company cited several reasons for the decision, including access to wind energy.

In April, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad attended the announcement of the 2,000-MW Wind XI installation, which MidAmerican claims is the biggest economic development project in the state’s history.

Wind XI would increase MidAmerican’s substantial wind portfolio to the point that wind would provide energy equal to 85 percent of the electricity sold by the company in a year’s time.

A final decision from state regulators is expected in September. MidAmerican has said it would need to start construction on the project before Dec. 31 in order to receive the maximum amount of federal production tax credits. The credit will gradually decrease over several years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2017.

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