Nonsensical Numbers from Beacon Hill: the Clean Power Plan in Iowa

Iowa was one of the targets of a transparently awful attack on the Clean Power Plan by Berman and Associates. This aggressive, polluter-funded public relations firm from Washington, DC - led by a guy dubbed "Dr. Evil" by 60 Minutes - had to really stretch the truth to find results to satisfy their anti-environment narrative. For the very first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan will limit dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants; it should come as no surprise that those most opposed to this plan are those who most profit from polluting.

My colleagues Aliya Haq and Laurie Johnson have exposed this pretty feeble effort by looking at the genesis of the reports as well as the analysis itself. But, there are a couple of points worth refuting here because of how ridiculous they are in the context of Iowa's current and soon-to-be energy mix.

The numbers from Beacon Hill simply don't make sense.

The Beacon Hill "study" asserts that electricity prices will increase as a result of the Clean Power Plan. In contrast, MidAmerican Energy, one of the regulated utilities in the state, has said that as the standards are currently proposed they "do not anticipate significant impacts to customer rates." Part of this is due to the state's regional leadership in renewable energy and energy efficiency, as I explained in an earlier post. My colleagues at the Iowa Environmental Council also found that as the Clean Power Plan is proposed today, Iowa will likely be in compliance with 2030 limits before the standards are even in place in 2020.


Existing Source Performance Standards

Most of Beacon Hill's supposed cost increases will come from natural gas for heat: "States in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, including Iowa, will be hardest hit through their winter heating and gas bills." It's not clear from this report how they calculated these natural gas costs, but it's definitely worth noting that natural gas heating would not be directly affected by the Clean Power Plan, which simply sets limits on carbon pollution for the existing electric power sector.

The Beacon Hill numbers also cite jobs lost, but it's not clear what jobs they are talking about. The state has seen thousands of jobs created by the wind industry, energy efficiency, and solar, and those jobs will only be encouraged by the Clean Power Plan. The Institute for an Advanced Energy Economy found over 22,000 existing clean energy jobs across the state, and anticipates that number to grow to 24,000 by the end of this year. And, these are quality jobs - they tend to pay more at an average of $44,000, or 13 percent higher than the average wage in the United States. Compared with the fossil fuel industry, the clean energy industry generates more jobs per unit of energy delivered and uses a higher proportion of local labor.

The Beacon Hill numbers suggest millions in lost investment - in a state where the largest utility has invested over $2 billion in wind energy, supporting manufacturing and transportation (Iowa is one of the only states with the full supply chain) as well as construction and maintenance workers. Indeed, a 2014 report by Battelle for the Iowa Economic Development Authority recognized renewable energy as one of the state's most important industries that is "propelling Iowa to the next level of economic success," and energy efficiency as one of the most promising emerging growth opportunities.

One of the most confusing Beacon Hill tables is the Iowa Generation Mix Comparison:


In no conceivable way is it possible that generation from renewables would decrease from 2012 to 2020, when today there are over 1,200 MW of wind energy under construction. Given the tremendous potential for both wind and solar, falling prices for renewable energy technologies, and the strength of utility efficiency programs in the state, it is simply not possible that this is representative of Iowa's future.


Finally, the Beacon Hill report cites multiple times the thousands of families that qualify for heating assistance in the state and that many more had trouble with their heat bills last year. This is a problem, but Beacon Hill is conflating so many things it hurts. This evidence of energy poverty could be the result of many trends and events including endemic economic inequalities, remnants of the economic downturn, a lot of wasted energy from inefficient homes and buildings, as well as a horribly cold Polar Vortex-filled winter last year. And, it is precisely because these particularly vulnerable families do exist that we must expand access to clean energy. There are both energy and non-energy benefits to investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, leading to smarter energy use, comfortable homes, lower electricity bills, a reliable electric grid, and stable jobs.


Photo credit: Janet Ramsden