Climate law fuels solar vs. wind battle

President Joe Biden’s $369 billion climate law promises to drive down the cost of solar power and battery technology — but that new economic landscape could also throw a curveball in regions with big wind plans.

Iowa’s largest-ever wind energy proposal is now the subject of fierce criticism from some of the biggest champions of renewable power: environmental groups and tech companies that are eager for carbon-free electricity to run their data centers.

Iowa-based utility MidAmerican Energy, a unit of an energy holding company controlled by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, plans to invest nearly $4 billion almost exclusively in wind power. But critics say that money could be better spent, especially considering the tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that reward solar infrastructure.

The case is a harbinger of how a new infusion of federal cash could change the economics of low-carbon power and pit sources of clean energy against each other.

Modeling performed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center found that adding in more solar power and battery storage to the utility’s energy mix would drive down costs for consumers. Unlike the wind power plan (known as Wind Prime), a more diverse offering would also hasten the retirement of some of MidAmerican’s coal plants, the environmental coalition said.

“We have concern with just going forward with a $4 billion investment that may take other investment opportunities off the table,” Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the group, told Jeff.

MidAmerican officials say the utility considered other sources of power, but the wind expansion is a reasonable way to reach its 100 percent renewable energy target at no extra cost to consumers. MidAmerican is already among the biggest wind power producers in the nation.

Critics are not so sure. Some allege that the fidelity to wind power is more about maximizing profit during the energy transition. They say the utility’s plan to close its five coal plants by 2049 is too slow.

“Wind Prime is not about decarbonization,” said Devi Glick, a senior principal at Synapse Energy Economics. “Wind Prime’s purpose is to maximize revenues for MidAmerican.”

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