MidAmerican gets court approval for 2016 coal termination

MidAmerican Energy plans to cut off coal use by 2016 at several coal units for clean-air reasons, but it looks like it has dodged a clean-air bullet at its Louisa coal plant in Iowa, the company said in its May 3 quarterly Form 10-Q statement.

In conjunction with a consent decree filed with the U.S. District Court in Iowa under a settlement with the Sierra Club, MidAmerican has committed to cease burning solid fuel, such as coal, at its Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center Units 1 and 2, George Neal Energy Center Units 1 and 2 and Riverside Energy Center by April 16, 2016. These units represent 9% of MidAmerican Energy’s net owned available generating capacity, the Form 10-Q noted.

“The George Neal Energy Center Unit 1 and Riverside Energy Center currently have the capability to burn natural gas in the production of electricity, although under current operating and economic conditions, production utilizing natural gas would be very limited,” the company added. “No decisions have been made regarding upgrades to enable the use of natural gas at the other MidAmerican Energy units, which produced 1.8 million MWh of electricity, or 6% of MidAmerican Energy’s owned generation production during 2012. The consent decree was entered by the court on April 12, 2013.”

Under the decree, MidAmerican agreed to:

  • By Dec. 31, 2014, complete installation of baghouses at Neal Energy Center Units 3 and 4. This work is already underway and was in progress prior to the Sierra Club’s notice of intent to sue.
  • By April 16, 2016, cease burning solid fuel (i.e., coal) at Neal Energy Center Boilers 1-2 (total of 418 MW); Walter Scott, Jr. Energy Center Boilers 1-2 (total of 118.2 MW); and evaluate the use of other fuels like natural gas for continued operations of these facilities. MidAmerican also will cease burning solid fuel at Riverside Generating Station (total of 137.4 MW) and will continue to operate this facility using natural gas.

As for dodging that bullet, in June 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for SO2. Under the new rule, the existing 24-hour and annual standards for SO2, which were 140 parts per billion measured over 24 hours and 30 parts per billion measured over an entire year, were replaced with a new one-hour standard of 75 parts per billion. The new rule will utilize a three-year average to determine attainment.

The new NAAQS rule will utilize source modeling, in addition to the installation of ambient monitors where SO2 emissions impact populated areas. Attainment designations were due by June 2012; however, due to a lack of needed information to make the designations, the EPA extended the deadline for area designations to June 2013. The EPA has recommended that Muscatine County, Iowa, be designated nonattainment for the one-hour SO2 standard and intends to finalize the nonattainment designation by June 2013. MidAmerican Energy’s Louisa coal plant is located just outside of Muscatine County.

“Based on the distance of the facility from the ambient monitor and the predominant wind patterns at the time violations were recorded, the EPA has indicated that MidAmerican Energy’s Louisa coal-fueled generating facility did not cause or contribute to the violation,” the company reported. “MidAmerican Energy does not believe the nonattainment designation, should it become final, will have a material impact on the Louisa coal-fueled generating facility.”

MidAmerican Energy’s forecasted utility construction expenditures, which exclude amounts for non-cash equity allowance for funds used during construction (AFUDC) and other non-cash items, are approximately $695m for 2013. That figure includes $206m for emissions control equipment, primarily at George Neal Energy Center Units 3 and 4 and Ottumwa Generating Station to meet air quality targets, including the reduction of SO2, NOx and particulate emissions.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.