MUSCATINE — With the transition from coal to natural gas well underway, the staff at Muscatine Power and Water shared Thursday its Powering the Future strategy through a special tour and open house.
Gage Huston, general manager of MPW, opened the day by giving an overview of the company’s most recent strategies and the key parts of them. Above all else, Huston emphasized MPW’s focus on its balanced approach between its core factors: reliability, affordability, flexibility, and sustainability.
“We are on the cusp of a major transition and transformation of how we produce power for Muscatine,” Huston said, “and we think that as we move forward, it’s important to strike that balance. If you put too much emphasis on any one factor, the others can suffer significantly.”
Huston spoke about some of the proposed solutions the company has in mind to maintain this balance. In terms of reliability, Huston said that MPW’s plan is to maintain a local dispatchable resource to support its system.
“We are looking to plan on phasing out our coal-fired generation over the next decade, but we’re looking to replace that in-part with a small, local gas-fired Combined Heat and Power unit, which is a very efficient design,” Huston said. The CHP unit will be built at the MPW Power Plant, and is expected to be operational by 2028.
Along with the CHP unit, MPW will be working with Ranger Power, one of the largest solar developers in the Midwest, on the Grandview Avenue solar project. Guests at the open house saw the land where the solar field will be placed. Huston said the land is not hospitable to crops, so MPW is able to use it without taking resources from local farmers.
“We’re excited about our partnership. Working in public power is just a wonderful thing for us… and we’re very excited to be a part of the future here in the balanced approach that MPW is seeking,” Adam Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Ranger Power, said.
Huston said this transition towards renewable energy will come with modest annual-rate adjustments similar to the ones that customers have seen over the past several years. The company, according to Huston, also plans on leaving room within its plans for adaptability to keep up with changes to technology that could happen within the next decade.
“We’re also going to continue to support customer renewable generation programs, whether it be behind the meter systems at customer sites or by participating in the renewable energy programs that (MPW) puts together,” Huston said.
Huston addressed the feedback the company has heard from others in the community by answering the question of why it wouldn’t be possible for MPW at this time to transition to a 100% renewable energy system.
According to Huston, MPW would need 900 watts of solar panels with 2,000 megawatts of storage to get to a 100% renewable supply. This would require about a $1.5 billion investment, costing an additional $500 million every decade or so for battery replacement.
“Unfortunately with the technology and cost where it’s at today, we’ve estimated that it would roughly double our retail rates at this time,” he said. “Because of those low capacity factors, you really have to overbuild the amount of renewables that you need to serve the same amount of volume that you do with your traditional resources today.”
While a fully renewable system is still unattainable at this time, Huston restated that MPW still has its goal of reducing emissions by at least 65% by the end of the decade through using the CHP in coordination with the solar field, which is expected to be operational in 2024.