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Environmental Activists Urge Iowa Energy Company To Retire Coal Energy

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The protesters met outside before walking into MidAmerican Energy's headquarters in downtown Des Moines on Wednesday.

Protesters gathered outside the MidAmerican Energy headquarters in downtown Des Moines today to demand Iowa’s largest energy company retire all of its coal plants in nine years. They were part of two groups: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) and the Iowa Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

They also want MidAmerican to invest in retrofitting homes for energy efficiency with a focus on families of color and low-income individuals.

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Jake Grobe hands out posters for the protesters to carry once inside the headquarters of MidAmerican Energy in downtown Des Moines. "So today, our goals are to disrupt their lives a little bit," Grobe said.

Jake Grobe stood on a ledge wearing a bucket hat and a blue T-shirt with "REVOLUTION NOW" printed in all capital letters. He held a megaphone to his mouth, which was covered by a black and white bandana. (All the protesters wore masks.) Grobe asked the crowd who is most hurt by the effects of climate change.

“It's Black, Indigenous, it's poor working families that are unable to recover from flash floods, from droughts from wildfires. Climate crisis increases all inequalities," he answered himself.

He quickly ran through some ground rules for the protesters before they made their way into the building that houses MidAmerican Energy's headquarters. Grobe told them to stay quiet as they walked through the skywalks to the main building, and that they should start the chants they practiced in a whisper once they entered the building.

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Kim Hagemann holds a sign during the protest to pressure MidAmerican Energy to combat more aspects of climate change. "I'm here because climate change is an urgent problem. And mid America is the biggest polluter in Iowa," she said.

Polk County resident Kim Hagemann was among the group. She said she came because she wants to hold Iowa leaders accountable for climate change.

“We just need them to act, we need to have the consumers know what's really happening. And so that they change their plans and get rid of their coal plants, at least by 2030. It's an urgent problem," she said.

In 2019, MidAmerican Energy reported using mostly wind energy (about 57 percent), with coal energy as its second most used source (about 25 percent). The Sierra Club reports MidAmerican Energy runs five coal plants in Iowa: Muscatine, Ottumwa, Council Bluffs and two in Sioux City. The Sierra Club estimates the coal plants have cost customers $25.7 million over the last five years, and if two plants are completely retired, it estimates it could save customers $92 million.

A statement from MidAmerican said the company is decarbonizing its portfolio and striving to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

"Last year we delivered 83.6 percent of our Iowa customers' annual energy needs with renewable sources -- one of the highest achievements among utility companies in the nation," wrote spokesman Geoff Greenwood. "When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, it is essential that we maintain a diverse generating portfolio so we can provide our customers with a reliable energy source.

MidAmerican Energy has signed a climate pledge with its parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Although, the latter has a component in its pledge to "retire coal-fueled generating capacity."

MidAmerican Energy's pledge stated: "We are reducing coal as a percentage of our generation mix and have installed technology to reduce emissions at our coal-fueled plants." The Sierra Club and Iowa CCI have pointed out the pledge does not include closing down coal plants in the state.

Hagemann referenced the recent report from the United Nations, which cited human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases as the main contributor to global climate change. She said since humans caused it, humans have the responsibility to slow it down.

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Ten-year-old twins Luca and Azul Martínez hold up their signs at the protest. Azul wrote on her sign in pink marker: "I want a livable future," with a pink heart.

"The changes have to be big and the technology is there. We can do so much right now. And we don't have to live in caves in order not to use any carbon. You know, there's the technology out there, we need to move forward. We need to do it, and we need to do it now," she said.

Hagemann looked around her at the wide range of age groups present at the protest.

"I do feel regret," she admitted. Children as young as ten were holding signs around her. "We're leaving them with such a dire situation, but I do want to give them hope that we can do things and we can make at least a change."

Since 2005, MidAmerican Energy has decreased its carbon dioxide emissions about 58 percent, but environmental advocates said it needs to do more.

"In fact, they actually don't even need that coal to meet Iowa's energy needs. They are strictly burning that coal for profit," Grobe said. (MidAmerican Energy has estimated an excess capacity, which peaks in 2022.) The crowd cheered and followed him inside the building.

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The environmental activists marched inside MidAmerican Energy's headquarters during their protest. They urged the company to retire its coal plants across the state. Some negotiated with the building's security, who told the protesters they had to leave.

The activists chanted as they walked in a tight oval on the main floor of MidAmerican Energy's headquarters.

"People over profit!
No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil!
No more status quo, fossil fuels have got to go!"

The protesters were asked to leave the building by security, but 'marshalls' within the group ensured a peaceful demonstration.