SERGEANT BLUFF | MidAmerican Energy Co. has agreed to a pollution control settlement with the Sierra Club that includes retiring two of the utility's four coal-fired plants just south of Sioux City. The move could eventually lead to fewer people working at the facilities.
Under a consent degree filed in federal court in Des Moines Tuesday, MidAmerican said it would stop burning coal in boilers at its George Neal Energy Center 1 and 2 units by mid-April 2016. In a news release, MidAmerican said it would consider keeping the plants operating by switching to natural gas or another clean-burning fuel.
Neal 1 is already equipped for natural gas, while Neal 2 would require a conversion, said MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Potthoff.
In the Sierra Club settlement, MidAmerican also agreed to quit burning coal in boilers at its Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center 1 and 2 units near Council Bluffs, and its Riverside Generating Station near Bettendorf. In the news release, the utility committed to switching the Quad-Cities area plant to natural gas after the April 2016.
As part of the settlement, MidAmerican also will proceed with the ongoing installation of new emission control equipment at its Neal Center Units 3 and 4, Potthoff said.
The work is scheduled for completion at Neal 4 by by this fall and at Neal 3 by spring 2014.
MidAmerican's Units, 1, 2 and Unit 3 are part of a complex known as Neal North, along the Missouri River, near Sergeant Bluff, while Unit 4, part of Neal South, is closer to the town of Salix.
The twin power plant sites employ more than 230 people. Potthoff said MidAmerican does not anticipate any layoffs as a result of no longer burning coal at Units 1 and 2. The company, though, may leave some positions open in the future as existing workers retire or voluntarily leave for other jobs, she said.
Last July, the Sierra Club gave notice it intended to sue MidAmerican over violations of the Clean Air Act at its Iowa coal-fired plants, which the environmental group claimed emits more pollution than allowed.
Air pollution from the Sioux City, Council Bluffs and Bettendorf area plants contribute to 45 deaths and 760 asthma attacks annually, according to the Clean Air Task Force, the Sierra Club said.
MidAmerican, a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, said it agreed to settle the complaint to avoid a costly lawsuit.
"MidAmerican Energy entered into settlement discussions as a means to avoid costs to its customers, unnecessary delays, and ongoing uncertainty associated with litigation," the company said in a statement.
The Sierra Club hailed the "landmark" settlement, which also requires MidAmerican to build a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds
"Coal's days are numbered here in Iowa," said Pam Mackey Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club in Iowa, in a statement. "Pollution from MidAmerican's coal-fired power plants causes major health problems in communities across Iowa. Retiring units at these coal plants and installing vital pollution controls at the remaining units will help Iowans breathe easier."
MidAmerican pointed out it has been and remains in compliance with all laws and regulations. Several years ago, the company starting forming plans for the c current installation of environmental control equipment at Neal 3 and 4, the Scott Unit 3 and the Louisa Generating Station.
In a regulatory filing, MidAmerican, said it expects to invest $180 million on emissions reductions at Neal Units 3 and 4 through 2012. The company expects additional expenses to accumulate as the projects continues
When complete, the upgrades will reduce emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, allowing the two plants to meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules set to take effect in 2015.
MidAmerican, Iowa's largest utility with a territory that includes large swaths of Northwest Iowa and parts of southeast South Dakota, owns all the generating capacity at Neal Unit 1 and 2, and the largest portion at Unit 3 and 4, which is co-owned by some other utilities.
Between the four units, the utility has the capacity to generate a total of 1,074 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power several hundred thousand homes.