Alliant may walk away from the Marshalltown coal plant

On Wednesday the Iowa Utilities Board delivered a long-awaited ruling on “ratemaking principles” for the coal-fired power plant that Interstate Power and Light (a subsidiary of Alliant Energy) wants to build near Marshalltown. The ratemaking principles determine how much of a return the investor-owned utility can make on its investment. A higher return for the utility means the company can pass more of the cost of building a new plant onto customers.

The Iowa Utilities Board’s decision was well below what Alliant requested and not far above what the Iowa Consumer Advocate’s Office was seeking. The Cedar Rapids Gazette quoted an energy industry analyst:

“We expect LNT (Alliant Energy) will not accept the ratemaking principles as approved by the Iowa Utilities Board, instead allowing the proposal to die,” said David Parker of Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. He said Alliant will probably look instead to building more wind and natural-gas electric turbines.

At Century of the Common Iowan, noneed4thneed links to an article from the Marshalltown Times-Republican that similarly suggested the future of the project is in doubt.

Alliant’s official statement left options open but made clear that the company was not happy with the ratemaking ruling. Excerpt:

In its decision, the IUB established a return on equity of 10.1 percent and a cost cap of $2816.00 per kilowatt, excluding AFUDC. IPL had requested a return on equity of 12.55 percent and a cost cap of $3483.00 per kilowatt, excluding AFUDC. IPL has proposed to own 350 megawatts of the facility’s output, with the remaining output owned by other partners or included in purchased power agreements.

“We will need to review the IUB’s written order to determine our next steps,” states Tom Aller, president-IPL. “However, the conditions placed by the IUB on the proposed hybrid power plant present a number of challenges in today’s financial climate, and we are disappointed that this decision seemingly does not take that reality into account. We will continue to work with our partners to determine how today’s decision will impact our respective companies’ long-term generation plans. IPL remains committed to pursuing safe, reliable, environmentally responsible and cost effective energy supply options to meet Iowa’s future energy needs.”

I would not be surprised if Alliant follows the lead of LS Power, which opted last month not to pursue a proposed coal-fired power plant near Waterloo. Alliant’s subsidiary in Wisconsin may ask state regulators to allow an emergency rate hike because the economic slump has reduced demand for electricity:

Utility executives said the increase would be needed to offset a dramatic decline in power sales because of the recession.

With the closing of the Janesville General Motors plant and other factory cutbacks, the utility is forecasting power sales to drop 6% this year.

“It is understandable that our customers find it frustrating that the economic hardships many of them are experiencing could in turn compel us to increase their electric bills,” said Patricia Kampling, the utility’s chief financial officer, during a conference call Thursday.

Think about that for a minute. All along Alliant and their boosters in Marshalltown have been telling us that a new coal-fired power plant is needed to meet increased electricity needs. But future demand is almost surely going to be below what they have projected.

We could reduce our baseload needs further with an aggressive energy efficiency policy.

While several analysts interpreted Wednesday’s ratemaking ruling as bad news for Alliant, it’s worth noting that Plains Justice had a different take:

“The Iowa Utilities Board has missed an important opportunity to protect our state’s economy and shield  Iowa consumers from a significant electricity rate increase,” said Carrie La Seur, President of Plains Justice.

“New coal power plant proposals are being canceled across the country because they cost too much and pose too many financial risks. The IUB has really let Iowans down by opting for an expensive, polluting coal plant instead of the available cheaper alternative of aggressive energy efficiency programs,” she added.

I put the full text of the Plains Justice release after the jump.

On a related note, Plains Justice passed along this news via e-mail a few days ago:

Last week, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) denied a petition to re-open the generating certificate proceedings for the proposed Marshalltown coal plant. The generating certificate grants permission for the power plant to be built.

A petition for re-hearing had been filed by the Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate and joined by Plains Justice on behalf of Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Iowa Renewable Energy Association (the Coalition). Now that the petition has been denied, the IUB’s decision to grant the generating certificate can be appealed in state court although it is not yet known whether anyone will appeal.

A lawsuit would only add to the delay and expense of building this power plant.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is expected to issue a draft air permit for the Marshalltown plant very soon. Opponents of this 50-year investment in the wrong direction on energy will want to make their voices heard during the public comment period on that permit. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of fine-particulate matter pollution, which is linked to various respiratory illnesses.

For immediate release, February 4, 2009

Contact: Carrie La Seur, Plains Justice, (319) 560-4729

Iowa Utilities Board Misses Opportunity to Protect State ‘s Economy

IUB Votes to Saddle Alliant Customers with Risky, Costly  Marshalltown Coal Plant

Des Moines – Today the Iowa Utilities Board voted to grant assurances to Alliant Energy that it can charge its  Iowa customers for the capital costs of the proposed  Marshalltown coal plant and shift the risk of greenhouse gas regulation entirely to ratepayers.

“The Iowa Utilities Board has missed an important opportunity to protect our state’s economy and shield  Iowa consumers from a significant electricity rate increase,” said Carrie La Seur, President of Plains Justice.

“New coal power plant proposals are being canceled across the country because they cost too much and pose too many financial risks. The IUB has really let Iowans down by opting for an expensive, polluting coal plant instead of the available cheaper alternative of aggressive energy efficiency programs,” she added.

The IUB’s ratemaking decision is out of step with recent decisions in other states. Yesterday, the Governor of Michigan announced that Michigan will choose energy efficiency and renewable energy over new coal power plants in order to create more jobs. Two weeks ago, the Omaha Public Power District announced it would pursue renewable energy and energy efficiency rather than build new coal-fired generation because it would save money by doing so. Earlier this week, the Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative delayed indefinitely its plans to build the Highwood coal plant, and instead will build natural gas and wind-energy facilities, due to uncertainty about upcoming greenhouse gas emissions regulation.

Today’s IUB ratemaking decision follows on the heels of its denial last week of petitions filed by the Iowa Office of Consumer Advocate and Plains Justice to re-open the plant’s generating certificate proceedings. The Office of Consumer Advocate is a division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, and its job is to investigate the legality of rates and practices of all utility companies subject to the jurisdiction of the IUB, and to represent consumers and the public generally before state and federal agencies concerning those matters.

In testimony before the Iowa Utilities Board last fall, Plains Justice’s financial expert Tom Sanzillo stated that building the proposed  Marshalltown coal plant would raise the price that Alliant Energy’s Iowa customers pay for electricity in their homes by approximately 22%.

Plains Justice represents Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Iowa Renewable Energy Association in the  Marshalltown ratemaking proceedings.

More information about decisions in other states:

Michigan: http://www.michigan.gov/docume…

Nebraska: http://www.oppd.com/AimGreen/2…

Montana: http://www.greatfallstribune.c…

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  • Uhmmm,

    Pardon my ignorance here, but what does this mean in terms of getting some of that groovy “Clean Coal Technology” here in Iowa? We are doing so good at leading the country in terms of Wind Capacity, I’d hate to see us lose leadership in terms of “Clean Coal”. In other words… YAY!!!

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