Iowa and coal

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Economics of Coal in Iowa

Iowa is 16th in the nation in coal power generation, with 72 operating coal-fired power units at 28 locations totaling 6,492 megawatts (MW).[1][2]

As of March 2010, three proposed coal plants in Iowa faced opposition and were canceled: Dairyland Chickasaw/Mitchell Plant, the LS Power Elk Run Energy Station, and the Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4.[3]

In 2003, MidAmerican completed construction of a fourth 790-MW coal-fired unit at its existing 820-MW Council Bluffs Energy Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The new plant is the largest source of new air pollution and global warming pollution in Iowa.[3]

Hearings on the Sutherland Station

Hearings on Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4, a 600 megawatt (660 megawatt gross) power plant proposed for Marshalltown, Iowa, by Interstate Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, took place in October and November of 2007.

(drafted by Plains Justice on behalf of Coalition partners Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Environmental Council, and Iowa Renewable Energy Association) (PDF file)
Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (PDF file)
Topic: global warming
Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Economics at Iowa State University (PDF file)
Topic: the potential power demand from biofuels
Senior Associate of TR Rose Associates, and Former First Deputy Comptroller for the State of New York (PDF file).
Topic: disputing Alliant's modelling of future electricity demand
Director of Environment and Health Programs, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PDF file)
Topic: public health effects of the plant

On March 5, 2009 Interstate Power and Light Company announced that it was canceling the Sutherland plant. The company said the decision was based on a combination of factors, including the financial climate and concerns about the possibility of future regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.[4]

Legislative issues

Coal Ash

The University of Iowa Power Plant, Iowa State University Power Plant, and the University of Northern Iowa Power Plant are among the state’s biggest producers of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal combustion. All three schools dispose of their ash in an unlined, unmonitored former quarry in Waterloo that received a waiver from the state in 2002, allowing it to use the ash as fill in its reclamation process.[5]

In July 2009, the University of Iowa and Iowa State vowed to look into their dumping procedures to ensure they did not pose a threat to public health, due to heavy metals and toxins in coal like arsenic, mercury, and boron, which can poison groundwater supplies. EPA reports note elevated cancer risks for those living near coal dump sites.[5]

In August 2009, assistant director of utilities at Iowa State Jeffrey Witt said the three universities spoke with the owner of the Waterloo quarry, BMC Aggregates (formerly Basic Materials Corp.) and determined that their coal ash disposal methods were safe.[5]

The EPA had announced in May 2009 that the agency was preparing regulations on how to handle ash from coal-fired power plants. Matt Hale, the EPA official, said coal ash may be reclassified as hazardous waste.[6] This would require federal monitoring standards for coal ash disposal sites like the Waterloo quarry.[5]

In September 2009, the universities announced they would begin a voluntary groundwater-monitoring program at their Waterloo quarry.[7]

Renewable Energy Policy

In 2007, Iowa created the Iowa Office of Energy Independence (IOEI), charged with "creating an Iowa Energy Plan every year to establish Iowa's path toward a reliance on energy that does not depend on outside sources of fuel and electricity and to distribute $25 million a year for four years in grants and loans that will go towards projects to help the state reach its goal towards independence."

In 2007, the Iowa State Legislature created the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council (ICCAC), which consists of 23 governor-appointed members from various stakeholder groups, and four non-voting, ex-officio members from the General Assembly. The ICCAC is charged with "creating a proposal that addresses policies, cost-effective strategies, and multiple scenarios designed to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions." Among I-Renew's guiding principles is 1.) include renewable energy equipment in utility’s energy efficiency rebate programs, 2.) create Community Based Energy Development in Iowa, such as through Feed-In-Tariffs for new Renewable Energy Systems, and 3.) institute a fossil fuel carbon tax, and/or cap and trade or cap and dividend program.

Study questions coal-fired power plant job numbers

A 2011 Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies report, "A Fraction of the Jobs" found that coal-fired power plants underestimate jobs by more than half. The analysis looked at the six largest new coal-fired power plants to come online between 2005 and 2009, and combed through each project’s initial proposals and job projection data, including public statements, published documents and other material. They then compared hat data to actual employment — before, during and after construction — in the areas where the projects were built, relying chiefly on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.[8]

At the six coal plant locations -- in Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, South Carolina and Wisconsin -- analyses of employment data and labor retention rates showed that only the plant in Iowa had an increase in construction employment that matched the predicted level. The others were about a quarter to half the number of jobs predicted. In four of the six counties, the projects delivered on just over a quarter of the jobs projected.[9]

Iowa and air quality standards

In February 2011, the EPA declared Iowa's pollution-fighting plans "substantially inadequate" for maintaining fine particulate matter standards in Muscatine, Iowa, an industrial town of 22,700 on the Mississippi River. The state has 18 months to craft new plans for EPA approval, and then local industry will have another two years to install equipment or decrease production and reduce emissions. Not meeting pollution standards can lead to withheld federal funding and, eventually, a federal implementation plan that comes directly from the EPA instead of the state.[10]

The EPA's action came just a few months after the agency voided almost two years of Muscatine's sulfur dioxide data due to faulty equipment, which may postpone a ruling on the status for those emissions standards. The agency requires three years of data to determine whether standards are being met. Results from air modeling software could be submitted to the EPA, but some state officials are resistant to the idea. Computer air modeling is similar to weather forecasting, and much of the software relies on information from the National Weather Service. Using these computer modeling techniques to determine whether Muscatine meets federal pollution standards is opposed by Roger Lande, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and also former chairman of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI), a group that has called for "streamlined" processes for air quality permits to reduce "unnecessary burden on industry."[10]

Proposed coal plants

Fighting Big Business in Iowa



Citizen groups

Interview w/Don Shatzer - Community Energy Solutions Iowa
Plains Justice: Fighting Coal Power in the Midwest USA

Coal lobbying groups

Power companies

Existing coal plants

Iowa is 16th in the nation in coal power generation, with 72 operating coal-fired power units at 28 locations totaling 6,492 megawatts (MW).[1][11]

18 of these units are larger than 50MW.[12][13]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Coal Ash Waste and Water Contamination

In August 2010 a study released by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice reported that Iowa, along with 34 states, had significant groundwater contamination from coal ash that was not recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report, in an attempt to pressure the EPA to regulate coal ash, noted that most states do not monitor drinking water contamination levels near waste disposal sites.[14] The report mentioned Iowa's George Neal Station South and George Neal Station North were two sites that have groundwater contamination due to coal ash waste.[15]

Major coal mines

As of March 2010, there are no major coal mines in Iowa. Historically, coal has been mined in 34 of Iowa's southern and central counties since the 1840s; an estimated 5,500 underground mines have operated in the state, and continue to effect the environment.[16]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  2. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed December 2007. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  4. "Plans canceled for proposed Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4 hybrid power plant," Alliant Energy, March 5, 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Jason Hancock,"Iowa universities will not alter coal ash disposal practices" The Iowa Independent, August 6, 2009.
  6. "EPA representative: Coal ash could be regulated," Associated Press, May 6, 2009.
  7. Jason Hancock,"Public universities to monitor groundwater at coal ash dump site" The Iowa Independent, September 25, 2009.
  8. Tom Zeller, "Coal, Jobs and America’s Energy Future" NY Times, March 31, 2011.
  9. "Study questions coal-fired power plant job counts" Associated Press, March 31, 2011.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Adam Burke, "Muscatine, Iowa: Pretty setting, but dirty air" Star Tribune, March 31, 2011.
  11. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  12. Power Plants in Iowa,, accessed June 2008.
  13. Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration website, accessed May 2008.
  14. "Study of coal ash sites finds extensive water contamination" Renee Schoff, Miami Herald, August 26, 2010.
  15. "Enviro groups: ND, SD coal ash polluting water" Associated Press, August 24, 2010.
  16. Mary R. Howes,"Historical Record of Coal Mining in Iowa" Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources, 1991 Report.


Existing coal plants in Iowa

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