Buffett-owned utility reducing coal use

Source: Manuel Quinones, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MidAmerican Energy Co., a unit of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Iowa’s largest energy company, is phasing out coal in seven boilers at three company power plants, according to a settlement with the Sierra Club.

The proposed consent decree, filed today in Southern Iowa U.S. District Court, follows a lawsuit threat from the Sierra Club in July. Environmentalists accused the company of Clean Air Act violations at its Neal Energy Center, Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center and Riverside Generating Station.

“Coal’s days are numbered here in Iowa,” said Pam Mackey Taylor, energy chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter. “Retiring units at these coal plants and installing vital pollution controls at the remaining units will help Iowans breathe easier.”

The settlement, which awaits court approval, also requires additional pollution controls for Neal Energy Center Units 3 and 4. The company said upgrades were already under way when the Sierra Club threatened to sue.

“MidAmerican Energy has been and remains in compliance with the law,” the company said in a news release. “MidAmerican Energy consistently and fully reports its environmental performance to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which reviews the reports and determines whether it is appropriate to pursue enforcement against MidAmerican Energy’s plants.”

The company continued, “MidAmerican Energy entered into settlement discussions as a means to avoid costs to its customers, unnecessary delays, and ongoing uncertainty associated with litigation.”

MidAmerican said it will convert the Riverside plant to natural gas. It is considering using that fuel at some of its other boilers as well.

“This is great news for the people of Iowa and another important victory for the Beyond Coal campaign,” said New York mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, a top donor to the Sierra Club’s anti-coal efforts.

Environmentalists have praised MidAmerican’s investments in renewable energy. The Sierra Club noted that the company is the largest holder of wind installations among rate-regulated utilities. Berkshire Hathaway is also seeking to expand its solar holdings (ClimateWire, Jan. 4).

However, environmentalists complain of subsidiary PacifiCorp’s six coal-fired power plants and Buffett’s ownership of BNSF Railway Co., a major coal transporter. The Sierra Club said it will soon turn its attention to them.