Windfall: Turbine project emblematic of Iowa’s race to top in wind industry

December 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Winds of change, indeed.

Iowa is changing the way it generates electricity, and, in some ways, it’s putting a renewed charge in rural areas that had been losing population.

That’s because the state, known mostly for its corn and pork production, is beginning to hit its stride as a developer of its least visible and most prevalent resource: wind.

Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy Co. announced last week another major step forward in turning Iowa’s stiff breezes into one of its hottest revenue streams.

MidAmerican has touted the potential for wind for years now and is backing up its aspirations with an investment of $1.9 billion in wind energy development.

On Monday, Siemens Energy, which manufactures blades in Fort Madison, described the 1,050-megawatt turbine order it received from MidAmerican as “the largest onshore wind turbine order in the world.”

By 2018, Iowa could be generating more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity — nearly half of its total generation — from wind, said Harold Prior, executive director of the Milford-based Iowa Wind Energy Association.

MidAmerican is perhaps the most vocal proponent of wind generation across Iowa, and the utility doesn’t seem to be just blowing smoke. The utility soon will own or operate about half of the state’s installed capacity, Prior said. But, he added, other power-generation utilities are involved in this growth industry as well. Iowa’s other major utility, Alliant Energy, also is active in the wind business. Municipalities across the state have developed their own turbines for local power generation. Area towns like Waverly, Traer and Eldora spring to mind.

Across the U.S., other states are pushing wind power. Texas now has more than 12,000 megawatts of installed capacity to lead the country. California is No. 2, although Iowa likely will pass it in the next couple of years, Prior said.

The immediate beneficiary of the MidAmerican’s new plans to build 448 turbines is Fort Madison, but the benefits should spread across the state.

“It’s another cash crop for Iowa landowners, and it continues to support those manufacturers in wind-related businesses,” Prior said.

It isn’t just turbines that are keeping the wind-generated power business turning; power transmission upgrades are underway across Iowa, as well, Prior said.

Rural areas where wind farms being planted are benefiting, too, Prior points out.

The landowners hosting the turbines certainly benefit from regular payments. The projects do bring in jobs — temporary though they may be — during the construction phases.

“I know, from an economic perspective, the communities see a benefit with increased tax revenues and property values,” MidAmerican spokeswoman Julie White said. Prior said some property-tax valuation increases have been “significant,” and some rural schools have reported growing enrollments.

“The great thing is the distributed economic benefits,” he said.

“Northeast and east-central Iowa is really where the majority of wind-energy component manufacturing is located. I think every area of the state stands to benefit a great deal.”

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