DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- MidAmerican Energy Co. said Tuesday it agreed to stop burning coal in seven power plant boilers in Iowa and limit emissions from two others as part of a settlement with an environmental group.
The Sierra Club filed a notice last July informing MidAmerican it was violating the federal Clean Air Act and Iowa environmental regulations by emitting more pollution than permits allowed at power plants in Sergeant Bluff, Bettendorf and Council Bluffs.
Sierra Club threatened to sue, prompting MidAmerican to negotiate an agreement. On Tuesday, an official complaint and a settlement agreement were filed in U.S. District Court outlining the deal.
The energy company said it agreed to settle the Sierra Club complaint to avoid a costly lawsuit.
"MidAmerican Energy entered into settlement discussions as a means to avoid costs to its customers, unnecessary delays, and ongoing uncertainty associated with litigation," the company said in a statement.
MidAmerican agreed to stop burning coal in two boilers at Council Bluffs and two boilers in Sergeant Bluffs by April 2016. The company said it also will convert three coal-fired boilers at its Bettendorf facility to natural gas. It is evaluating whether to convert the coal units at Sergeant Bluff and Council Bluffs to natural gas before the 2016 deadline.
The company said installation of an environmental cleaning system is under way at two other boilers in Sergeant Bluffs, projects that had started before the Sierra Club complaint. Installation on one boiler will be completed by this fall and the other by the spring of 2014. Equipment to reduce emissions and pollution has already been installed at the other two boilers at Council Bluffs.
The Sierra Club, which has pursued similar cases against other power generators burning coal in the United States, claims coal plant emissions cause health problems for residents living near the plants.
"Clean air, clean water and a booming clean energy economy are part of an Iowa legacy that I am proud to leave for my children and grandchildren," said Pam Mackey Taylor, a spokeswoman for Sierra Club in Iowa. "Retiring units at these coal plants and installing vital pollution controls at the remaining units will help Iowans breathe easier."
MidAmerican said it remains in compliance with federal and state laws and that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which enforces environmental regulations, has not pursued enforcement at its plants.
MidAmerican, Iowa's largest energy company is owned by Warren Buffett's Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate. It serves 732,000 electric customers and 714,000 natural gas customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota.
The Sierra Club declared victory with the settlement.
"Today's settlement marks an important national milestone to end the scourge of coal, as well as an important milestone in our ongoing discussion with Warren Buffett family of companies about combating climate disruption," said Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
MidAmerican defended its environmental record, and says about 31 percent of its generating capacity is now powered by wind.
As part of the agreement, the company will install solar panels at the Iowa State Fairgrounds and an educational display that details tax credits and other information. MidAmerican also will pay $35,000 in attorney fees.