Alliant gives public latest on proposed generating station

An informational meeting Thursday morning brought community members up to speed on Alliant’s proposed gas-fire plant slated for construction in Marshalltown.

Ryan Stensland, a spokesperson for Alliant, gave the presentation at the Fisher Community Center in lieu of Interstate Power and Light President Tom Aller and Lee Hanson, director of generation construction. Excessive fog grounded the duo’s plane in Cedar Rapids, and the they were unable to attend.

Ken Vinson, who recently resigned from the Marshall Economic Development Impact Committee (MEDIC), has returned to Alliant as the community liaison for the project; he was on hand. Vinson previously worked for Alliant for 36 years.

On March 28, Alliant will file rebuttal testimony with the Iowa Utilities Board, and on May 21, at the Iowa Veterans Home, six interveners, including the Office of the Consumer Advocate and Iowa Consumers Coalition, will give testimonies before the board. The IUB’s order does not indicate there will be a public comments section.

“We are in the part of the process now that Matlock always skipped over,” Stensland said. “Meaning deposing witnesses, getting additional data and testimony – that type of thing.”

The Office of Consumer Advocate is contesting the return on the investment. While Alliant has requested an 11.25 percent return, the Office of Consumer Advocate has said it would like to see an 11 percent return. When Alliant built the Sutherland Station, the two started with a 2 percent divide. So, Stensland said .25 percent is a good starting point.

The only real opposition to the plant comes from the Large Energy Group. The group claims Alliant should purchase the power in Illinois, where it is less expensive. However, the group made the same argument for the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Cedar Rapids, and the IUB found the argument without merit.

“The power may be cheaper, but the ability to get it here over the transmission line is more. So, it’s about a wash,” Stensland said.

Environmental groups say they would like to see the plant use turbines that respond to changes in wind capacity, but Stensland said those technologies are unproven and that Alliant is adverse to taking risks on unproven technology.

Alliant has no plans to immediately partner with any other agencies to build the plant, Stensland said. The company is looking forward roughly 15 years and does not see a need to plan for additional megawatts beyond the already slated 600.

IPL has obtained approval on three permits and is awaiting approval on 19 others; however, Stensland said many of those permits will fall into place with regulatory approval.

Stensland said Alliant anticipates six or seven bids for construction. Presentations from the bidders are scheduled for April 1 to 8. Bids should range from $650 to $750 million. A crew averaging around 250 workers will likely break ground in late 2014, and the plant would be online in the summer of 2017.

“There is a sense in the marketplace that this is an excellent project to be a part of,” he said.

Alliant has strongly encouraged contractors to use local work and local vendors, he added. The construction is a union project.

The Sutherland Station will be retired at the end of 2016 should the new station get the green light, but Stensland said Alliant will have enough energy to provide for the needs of the area in the time between Sutherland’s closing and the new plant opening.

The roughly 24 employees at Sutherland will have the opportunity to work at the new station.

IPL has acquired roughly one quarter of the easements for the pipeline it plans to build, and Stensland said having two competing natural gas providers in the area will likely work in the plant’s favor.

Tom Deimerly, president of MEDIC, said the city is looking to a third party for a study to determine the impact on the tax base. That study should take two-to-three months to complete.

Alliant is planning a pipeline expansion near Ames sometime in the next couple of months, but that project has nothing to do with the Marshalltown station, Stensland said.