Muscatine Power and Water investigates alternative energies

MUSCATINE, Iowa–May 19, Muscatine Power and Water held a virtual presentation entitled Powering the Future, where they discussed future options for continuing local power generation. The options they have started investigating include building a 30 megawatt solar array at the Grandview Avenue well field as well as taking their coal-fired generation power plant offline in segments and replacing it with a natural gas combined heat and power plant.

Doug White, director of power production and supply for Muscatine Power and Water explained that every three to five years, the utility undergoes a power supply study to help them best understand how to adjust their power mix to preserve reliability and remain open to future technological advances. In making decisions on how to proceed, Muscatine Power and Water also takes into account environmental considerations as well as the cost of energy to local residents and businesses.

Based on some of the findings from the most recent power supply study, Muscatine Power and Water believes adding additional renewable energy in the form of a solar array and transitioning from coal to natural gas power generation will allow them to keep generating power locally and reliably. Transitioning to these fuel sources will also help them achieve their sustainability goals of lowering carbon emissions by 65% by 2030.

Muscatine Power and Water has already requested proposals for installing the 30 megawatt solar array and have begun the process of evaluating them. Once they select a proposal and begin working with a contractor to install it, they expect the solar array to go online within a few years. At this time, Muscatine Power and Water does not consider transitioning fully to renewable energy feasible because of its sensitivity to weather and the difficulty of storing energy using current battery technology during high demand times. However, it will continue to track consumer interest in renewables, as gauged by participating in the Choose Green program, which allows electricity customers to offset energy use by purchasing renewable energy certificates.

As for transitioning from coal to natural gas generation, Muscatine Power and Water plans to retire their current coal fired plant in stages, with units Seven, Eight, and Eight A going offline in 2023 and Unit 9, its largest power source, getting decommissioned in 2028. As this process happens, Muscatine Power and Water will bring its new natural gas combined heat and power unit online. With an estimated efficiency of 65-75% (compared to 30-50% fuel efficiency for many other power sources) Muscatine Power and Water expects the new plant to create less pollution as touted by the United States Department of Energy, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

In transitioning away from coal and into natural gas, Muscatine Power and Water General Manager Gage Huston acknowledged that worker turnover would take place, with Muscatine Power and Water letting go between 25 and 30 workers from the coal plant while transitioning as many as possible to running the natural gas plant. Huston emphasized that Muscatine Power and Water would stay upfront about the staffing turnovers and work to assist coal fired workers in finding other work.

At the end of the presentation, several residents brought up concerns about the environmental impact of extracting and transporting natural gas. Huston stated Muscatine Power and Water would look more into its sources of natural gas in the future and that possibly shifting the plant to hydrogen could allay some concerns.