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Alliant Energy to retire Lansing coal plant, plans to expand solar power

Burlington facility transitions from coal to natural gas

solar panels
solar panels

Alliant Energy plans to close its coal plant in Lansing by 2022 and transition its Burlington plant from coal to natural gas by 2021 as part of the utility’s effort to transition to more renewable energy, the company announced Thursday.

The Allamakee County plant, located along the Mississippi River near the Iowa-Minnesota border, has about 26 employees.

Terry Kouba, president of Alliant’s Iowa energy company Interstate Power and Light, said the utility will “really work hard to take care of each and every one of those employees.”

“They’ll have opportunities across the entire company,” Kouba said.

Almost half of the employees either are already eligible for retirement or will be soon, Kouba said.

The decision to shut down the Lansing facility, which has been in operation for more than seven decades, comes at a financially advantageous time.

“We’re also avoiding significant investments at Lansing that would be required to comply with existing environmental regulations,” Kouba told The Gazette.

Alliant can turn its Burlington facility to relying on natural gas with “very little expense,” Kouba said, while Alliant officials “continue to evaluate” the facility’s long-term future.

Alliant also will add up to 400 megawatts of solar energy by 2023.

It has existing solar facilities in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Marshalltown.

Kouba said the company still is evaluating possible locations in Iowa for the new solar development.

The expansion of solar is coupled with an addition of up to 100 megawatts of battery storage.

“When batteries and solar work together, it’s quite the cost-effective alternative that meets our customers’ energy needs while also creating a connected energy network,” Kouba said.

“We think (battery storage) is going to be a big piece of our future.”

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The utility, based in Cedar Rapids and Madison, Wis., has almost 13,000 megawatts of wind energy facilities in the state.

After these changes, Kouba said about half of Alliant’s energy production in the state will be from renewable resources.

The Sierra Club, the national environmental advocacy organization, lauded Alliant’s decision.

“Alliant’s decision to retire the Lansing coal plant and to invest in significant solar resources is another example of our present energy reality — coal can no longer compete with clean energy,” Sierra Club said in a statement.

“While this decision may be driven by economics, the results have a positive impact on pollution reduction and the company’s contribution to climate change.”

The Lansing and Burlington changes move Alliant “much closer” toward its goal of zero coal usage by 2040.

Thursday’s announcement leaves Prairie Creek Generating Station in Cedar Rapids as the only coal unit Alliant fully owns in Iowa. Alliant and MidAmerican Energy co-own a coal plant in Ottumwa.

Prairie Creek likely will switch to natural gas by the end of 2025, Kouba said, while Alliant and MidAmerican determine the Ottumwa plant’s future.

Kouba said Alliant’s customers — varying from large, global companies to residential customers — want more renewable power.

It’s also cheaper.

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Alliant expects the actions taken as part of its Clean Energy Blueprint for Iowa program will save customers $300 million over the next 35 years.

“In the long term, it’s in the best interests of the customers,” Kouba said.

“Not only from an environmental perspective, but also from an affordability perspective.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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