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West Liberty's Pearson Hall follows through on a swing during Tuesday's game against Williamsburg in Fort Dodge. Hall had one of the Comets' two hits in a 10-0 loss.

MPW begins "Powering the Future" plan, promises a natural gas unit by 2028
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MUSCATINE — After nearly five decades of using coal power Muscatine Power and Water is considering a switch to a combination of natural gas and renewable energy.

This month, MPW will propose a plan for a 30 megawatt solar field near its water facility. The company is expected to retire coal-fired units and replace them with a natural gas unit by 2028. Both of these moves are part of MPW’s “Powering the Future” plan, a strategy to cut down on MPW’s emissions while also doubling the renewable energy that the company produces from 5.5% to 12%.

“Last year, we embarked on a broad strategic planning initiative, and one of the strategies that we developed as part of that plan related to this Powering the Future initiative,” Gage Huston, General Manager of MPW said, “(The plan) was based on a balanced approach to our power supply, where we look at four fundamental factors. These are reliability, affordability, flexibility and sustainability.”

Huston said these current plans would have the perfect balance needed to allow for progress to be made to the company’s environmental goals and keep prices fair. The gas unit the company is considering would serve multiple functions.

“It’s a combined heat and power system, and it’s a very efficient process,” Huston explained, “It makes electricity, but then it also reuses some of the heat that would normally be lost, and it’s able to be used to make process steam. We’re lucky enough to have a customer with a process steam demand that we’ve been working with for over 20 years, and that’s been a really positive and mutually beneficial relationship for all of our electric customers.”

The gas unit may later be converted into a hydrogen unit if natural gas production were no longer an option. 

“It’s been recognized that all of the gas-fired assets and the dispatchability of these units are very valuable to the system. So, if you can find a way to power them with renewable hydrogen, that’s a best case scenario,” Huston said.

 MPW is working with a selected bidder to negotiate a formal power purchase agreement with the solar field. The company will submit an application to MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) to get an evaluation of the project.

“We’re on track to get that submitted,” Huston said.

MPW is developing a customer participation program for the Powering the Future project that will focus on larger industrial customers with renewable energy goals and cover the cost premium for the system. “We feel this could be a good win-win, where we add more renewables to our portfolio while also fitting with their corporate goals.”

Clean Air Muscatine (CLAM) is criticizing these plans, and would rather see a larger, immediate shift to renewable energy instead of replacing coal with gas.

“This option is even less fleshed out than large scale solar, wind or geothermal units today,” CLAM Renewable Energy Advocate Freedom Malik said, “There is no indication that hydrogen gas is going to be producible in any industrial fashion, economically, anytime in the past decade. (MPW) cannot reasonably predict when hydrogen would become a viable possibility.”

When asked about these criticisms, Huston said, “In our analysis… what gets really expensive is trying to replace the entire system with all renewables. When you don’t have those back-up resources that you can dispatch, then you have to rely on a significant increase in renewables plus battery storage, and that’s when the costs really start to add up.” A full transition to a renewable system does not seem feasible to MPW at this time.

CLAM Board President Sandy Stanley said CLAM understood the immediate expense of replacing infrastructure but the current plan MPW has would not get the Muscatine community to zero carbon dioxide production. Instead, CLAM is encouraging MPW to do an “all source” request proposal to see if other options are available.

“There is a lot of technology going into renewable energy, with a lot of possibilities in the future,” Stanley said, “If MPW builds a gas plant, we are then stuck with it. Their plan for a solar field is welcome, but will only take us to 12% renewable energy, not 100%.”

MPW will move ahead with current plans. Huston said the company is working to become carbon-neutral by 2050, a goal that is “very feasible” and on MPW’s horizon. For the moment, Huston said it was important to continue focusing on a balanced approach, prioritizing both sustainability and affordability without compromising either.

Although the Powering the Future project may take several years to implement, Huston said providing reliable and affordable energy to MPW’s customers continues to be one of the company’s biggest priority. Taking care of the staff in this transition is also important.

“One of the things that sometimes gets lost in these goals is the staff involved in the shutting down of these coal units. There are folks who have dedicated their careers to this utility and this community that are going to be impacted by this. As we work through this transition, the staff at the power plant remain extremely important to this community in keeping those units running while we still need them. We’re going to continue investing in these units while they’re still in service so that they can support the system until we make that transition to gas,” he said.

City deer season will be Sept. 12 through Jan. 10
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MUSCATINE — Beginning in September, deer within the city limits of Muscatine will no longer be safe as the bowhunting season in the city limits for 2021-22 was approved by the Muscatine City Council Thursday.

The council approved the season to be held from Sept. 12, 2021, through Jan. 10, 2022. The city has participated in the program since the 2006-07 season. This year’s hunt within city limits will be for bowhunting on approved private property with two acres or more. Property owners may combine contiguous parcels to reach the two acre minimum.

The council approved the hunting season with no comments.

The city will also host a qualifying shoot for people intending to participate in the hunting season. Passing the proficiency test is a requirement to be able to hunt within city limits. A required public meeting will be held with hunters on at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 in the Weed Park Aquatic Center with the first proficiency shoot being held from 8 to 10 a.m. Aug. 28. Shoots will also be held Sept. 1 and 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. The shoots will be held at the Weed Park maintenance facility at 1211 Weed Park Drive.

The city has participated in the Deer Management Zone hunts in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for the past 15 years. In that time a total of 719 deer have been harvested, including 57 in 2020-21. According to a press release from the city, the program has successfully accomplished its goal of a controlled reduction of deer population. This benefits citizens with fewer motor vehicle vs. deer accidents and less landscape destruction.

People with additional questions concerning the hunting season can contact the city’s parks and recreation department at 563-263-0241.

Bipartisan bill in peril
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WASHINGTON — The bipartisan infrastructure deal  senators brokered with President Joe Biden is hanging precariously ahead of a crucial Wednesday test vote as they struggle over how to pay for almost $1 trillion in public works spending.

Tensions were rising as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they say is a rushed and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his big infrastructure ideas — including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill — restless Democrats say it's time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals.

"It is not a fish or cut bait moment," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday, describing the procedural vote as just a first step to "get the ball rolling" as bipartisan talks progress.

Six months after Biden took office, his signature "Build Back Better" campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.

White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package  of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.

Biden calls it a "blue-collar blueprint for building an American economy back." He asserted Tuesday that Americans are overwhelmingly in support of his plan and "that's the part that a lot of our friends on the other team kind of miss."

The other team begs to differ.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and some outside groups decry what they call Biden's "spending spree," and McConnell has said big spending is "the last thing American families need."

A core group of Republicans are interested in pursuing a more modest package of traditional highway and public works projects, about $600 billion in new funds, and say they just need more time to negotiate with their Democratic colleagues and the White House.

Senators from the bipartisan group emerged upbeat Tuesday from another late-night negotiating session, with Biden aides at the Capitol saying a deal was within reach, and even a failed vote Wednesday would not be the end of the road.

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said the test vote Wednesday could be useful in helping to "advance and expedite" the process.

"We are so close," said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.

Biden has been in touch with both Democrats and Republicans for several days, and his outreach will continue "until he has both pieces of legislation on his desk to sign them into law," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

While Biden proposes paying for his proposals with a tax hike on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year, the bipartisan group has been working almost around the clock to figure out a compromise way to pay for its package, having dashed ideas for boosting the gas tax drivers pay at the pump or strengthening the Internal Revenue Service to go after tax scofflaws.

Instead, senators in the bipartisan group were considering rolling back a Trump-era rule on pharmaceutical rebates  that could bring in some $170 billion to be used for infrastructure. They were also still haggling over public transit funds.

Ten Republicans would be needed in the evenly split Senate to join all 50 Democrats in reaching the 60-vote threshold required to advance the bill past a filibuster to formal consideration.

Republicans are reluctant to open debate as the bipartisan bill remains a work in progress.

At a private lunch meeting Tuesday, McConnell and others urged Republican senators to vote no, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the session.

"We're not going to vote to proceed to a bill that doesn't exist yet," Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said afterward.

Some senators want to delay the vote to Monday. "We're making progress, but we need more time," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the members of the bipartisan group.

By setting the vote now, Schumer is trying to nudge negotiations along, a strategy both parties have used before. If it fails Wednesday he can set another vote to proceed to the bill later.

Many Republicans are wary of moving ahead with the first, relatively slim package, fearing it will pave the way for the broader $3.5 trillion effort Democrats are preparing to pass on their own under special budget rules that only require 51 votes. Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been working to keep restless Democrats in her chamber in line, as rank-and-file lawmakers grow impatient with the sluggish Senate pace.

Liberal Democrats, in particular, are eager to make gains on Biden's priorities — with or without Republicans.

"Time's a-wasting, I want to get this work done," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Tuesday.

Girl, 12, airlifted after fall on houseboat
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FAIRPORT — A 12-year-old girl was airlifted to the hospital Sunday from the Fairport Recreational Area after falling down the stairs of a house boat, according to Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department reports.

The report said at about 3:18 p.m. the Muscatine County Joint Communications Center received a report that the girl was conscious and breathing but had no feeling in the lower part of her body. It was reported the fall was accidental and the girl had hit her back and her head in the fall.

At about 3:30 p.m. Medforce was called and reported en route to the scene. The Muscatine Fire Department arrived soon after. According to the report, Medforce landed in the parking lot of the recreational area and then transported the girl to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

No further updates were given on the condition of the patient.