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Environmental Groups Applaud Iowa Regulators’ Order to Make MidAmerican Energy’s Secret Planning Studies Public

The studies include an evaluation of the economics of MidAmerican’s coal plants

DES MOINES, IA — On January 19, 2023, the Iowa Utilities Board issued an order in MidAmerican Energy’s Wind PRIME proceeding to make public two generation planning studies that MidAmerican has aggressively and repeatedly sought to keep secret from regulators and the public. The studies include an evaluation of the economics of MidAmerican’s coal generating facilities and a study of pathways to achieve zero carbon emissions electricity.

Several parties, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Iowa Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club, argued the public deserves to see the studies to shed light on whether MidAmerican’s proposed $3.9 Billion Wind PRIME investment is reasonable compared to alternatives, such as additional solar and battery storage development or shuttering their six expensive and aging coal plants, which are massice sources of carbon dioxide and other pollution.

After first refusing to provide the studies even to its own regulators, MidAmerican had provided the studies to the IUB and some parties in the case, but claimed the studies should be withheld from the public at large. IEC, ELPC, and Sierra Club challenged this attempt to keep the information a secret. The IUB agreed in their order last week that portions of the studies should be public. The order stated, in part, “It is difficult to imagine a more impactful decision to the Iowa ratepayers within MidAmerican’s monopoly service area than a multibillion-dollar, long-term capital investment strategy for the provision of electric generation assets.” 

The order further states that, “if the Board is to ensure just and reasonable rates for a utility’s customers, the Board, as well as other parties to a proceeding, must have access to all study results related to the prudency of the utility’s decisions, not just the results of studies favorable to the utility’s case.”

The Board’s order “denies the request for confidentiality of the Studies in their entirety under any of the grounds requested.”

“With the Board’s order, MidAmerican should stop hiding information that directly impacts their captive customers,” said Kerri Johannsen, Energy Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council. “MidAmerican owes it to their customers to let the facts speak for themselves, not keep hiding behind debunked claims of confidentiality with billions of dollars at stake.”

The Board’s order found that the information contained in the studies serves a public purpose because of its relevancy to the proposed Wind PRIME investment by MidAmerican. The order stated that, “there is significant public purpose and interest in the disclosure of the Non-Confidential Information. The non-redacted portions of the Studies will allow participants in the docket and the public generally to evaluate … the Wind PRIME proposal.”

“This is an important victory for transparency and accountability for the customers of MidAmerican Energy,” said Josh Mandelbaum, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Other utilities across the country are required to provide this type of information to the public to make sure they are spending money wisely. MidAmerican should not receive a special exception to that principle.”

“MidAmerican is asking for unquestioning support of its $4 billion Wind PRIME proposal even though a recent analysis by Synapse Energy Economics shows that there is a more cost-effective path for Iowa customers that would put the utility on a path to 100% clean energy,” said Laurie Williams, senior attorney with the Sierra Club. “The public deserves to have the information relevant to MidAmerican’s decision and to determine whether its plan is right for Iowa customers.”

MidAmerican has 14 days to obtain an injunction in order to keep the information hidden from the public. If no court order is produced, the studies will be published in a redacted format by the Iowa Utilities Board on February 2, 2023.

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