An upgrade is in the wind

MidAmerican will refit old turbines in Wright, Hamilton, Sac counties

-Messenger file photo by Joe Sutter Wind Operations Supervisor Bill Nobisch explains wind power during an October 2014 tour of the Lundgren Wind project, part of MidAmerican’s Wind 8 initiative. MidAmerican is now bringing more turbines to Iowa with a Wind XI project, and retrofitting old turbines to make them more powerful.

Iowa is one of the top states in the nation when it comes to pulling electricity out of thin air.

But wind turbines don’t last forever.

MidAmerican Energy has announced it will upgrade hundreds of its older wind turbines, bringing additional wind energy and what it projects to be cost savings to Iowa customers.

MidAmerican Energy recently received approval from the Iowa Utilities Board for a plan that will allow the company to “repower” a portion of its older wind fleet to make the turbines more efficient and productive.

Repowering simply means to retrofit existing wind turbines with newer, more efficient components, including longer blades, to extend the life of the turbines and increase energy production.

The outcome is good for MidAmerican Energy’s customers and for Iowa, the company said. The equipment upgrades will move MidAmerican Energy closer to its vision of providing renewable energy equal to 100 percent of its customers’ annual energy use.

“We’re excited to take this next step in our journey toward our 100 percent Renewable Energy Vision,” said Bill Fehrman, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy. “Repowering our older wind turbines brings us closer to achieving that vision in a way that provides both economic and environmental benefits to our customers and the state of Iowa.

Under the plan, many of MidAmerican Energy’s older General Electric wind turbines will be repowered. The company will begin work at the Century wind farm in Wright and Hamilton counties, the Victory wind farm in Crawford and Carroll counties, and the Intrepid wind farm in Buena Vista and Sac counties.

“Construction activity is already underway, and we will continue repowering work through 2020,” said Adam Jacobi, public relations representative. “Additional work sites and schedules will be announced at a later date.”

MidAmerican Energy has entered into definitive agreements with GE to complete the upgrades.

“We are delighted to work with MidAmerican Energy to repower their turbines,” said Pete McCabe, president and chief executive officer, Onshore Wind, GE Renewable Energy. “Repowering is an affordable way to increase the efficiency and output of turbines, improving reliability and extending the life of the turbines through the evolution of and advancements in technology.”

How much improvement will these turbines experience?

“Improvement depends on several varying factors,” Jacobi said, “but in general we expect a 19 to 28 percent improvement in the production of our wind turbines after repowering.”

By using existing foundations and towers, MidAmerican reduces costs associated with wind turbine construction and extends the useful life of its assets, he said. Landowners can expect longer durations of lease payments, and the company will continue paying property taxes through these extended timelines.

In 2016, Iowa became the first state to generate more than 35 percent of its total electricity from wind power, Jacobi said.

“For MidAmerican Energy, 47 percent of our Iowa retail sales came from wind energy in 2016,” he said.

That percentage is increasing as MidAmerican embarks on its Wind XI project.

“Wind XI was announced in 2016,” Jacobi said. “It’s going to be over several different wind farms in the state. It is a $3.6 billion development project. It’s the largest economic development project in the state of Iowa history. It’s going to involve 1,000 wind turbines that will add 2,000 megawatts of energy generation.”

“In 2021 when both our repowering and Wind XI projects are complete, we expect to generate renewable energy equal to 95 percent of our Iowa retail customers’ annual use,” Fehrman said.

The repowering and the Wind XI project will be done without requesting a rate increase, and with no financial assistance from the state, Jacobi said.

The wind turbines that went up throughout southern Webster County in the Lundgren project in 2014 were a part of Wind 8.

“In 2016, Iowa became the first state to generate more than 35 percent of its total electricity from wind power,” Jacobi said.