Alliant to Close Coal Boilers at 7 Sites Across Iowa

According to plans filed with the Minnesota Public Service Commission on November 1, Alliant Energy plans to close coal-fired boilers at seven sites in Iowa:

  • Sixth Street (all units) (Cedar Rapids)
  • Prairie Creek Unit 2 (Cedar Rapids)
  • Dubuque Unit 2
  • Lansing Units 2 and 3
  • Kapp Unit 1 (Clinton)
  • Agency Street CTs (all units) (Burlington) [CORRECTION: These are gas turbines.]
  • Sutherland Unit 2 (Marshalltown)

The plan also designates two boilers in Dubuque and another at Marshalltown for retirement in 2015. Coming less than two years after Alliant’s 2009 decision to withdraw its proposal for a major new coal-fired generation unit at Marshalltown, this feels like a major course change. But let’s not get too excited yet. Of this list, only one boiler (Lansing 3) is currently operational, and the replacement generation will come in significant part from running newer coal boilers at higher capacity.

Still, this is a big step in the right direction. Although Iowa’s new/old governor-elect, Terry Branstad, is reportedly a big supporter of increased coal generation, perhaps Alliant is starting to turn the page? The Minnesota filing discusses Alliant’s risk analysis, a subject much discussed by expert witnesses for the coalition (scroll down the Plains Justice Resource page to find testimony) represented by Plains Justice in the Iowa Utilities Board’s ratemaking principles docket on the Marshalltown proposal. The Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate also argued convincingly against allowing enormous rate increases to pay for what would have been the most expensive coal plant ever built.

Meanwhile, Branstad’s position on fossil fuel energy is tragic. Hopefully he’ll reconsider soon. A recent column in the Washington Post reminds us what a truly conservative approach to the risk of catastrophic climate change would look like:

In fact, far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk. When faced with uncertainty and the possibility of costly outcomes, smart businessmen buy insurance, reduce their downside exposure and protect their assets. When confronted with a disease outbreak of unknown proportions, front-line public health workers get busy producing vaccines, pre-positioning supplies and tracking pathogens. And when military planners assess an enemy, they get ready for a worst-case encounter.

When it comes to climate change, conservatives are doing none of this. Instead, they are recklessly betting the farm on a single, best-case scenario: That the scientific consensus about global warming will turn out to be wrong. This is bad risk management and an irresponsible way to run anything, whether a business, an economy or a planet.

The great irony is that, should their high-stakes bet prove wrong, adapting to a destabilized climate would mean a far bigger, more intrusive government than would most of the “big government” solutions to our energy problems that have been discussed so far.

New leadership take heed: conservatives who behave like conservatives would be a refreshing change.

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