MidAmerican Energy: Reaping the wind

Firm is gearing up for turbine expansion

-Submitted photo Work on the Wind X project began in spring 2016 and the new turbines were commissioned in December at MidAmerican Energy’s Ida Grove wind project located near Ida Grove.

During 2016, MidAmerican Energy completed work on two major wind farm projects in Ida and O’Brien counties, adding 551 megawatts of wind generation capacity for their customers.

That project, Wind X, began in the spring, with turbines commissioned the previous December. They are now fully operational and generating electricty.

One project was the first of its kind in Ida County, with 134 turbines providing 301 megawatts of generation capacity.

The O’Brien County project was the second major development for MidAmerican Energy there, with 104 turbines providing 250 megawatts of generation capacity.

Wind X is considered by company officials to be of great value to the area, providing more than $115 million in landowner payments annually and more than $160 million in property tax revenues over the next 30 years.

-Submitted photo MidAmerican Energy recently completed work on its new wind farm in Ida County. The wind farm is located near Ida Grove.

The first MidAmerican wind energy project constructed in O’Brien County was the Highland wind farm, which was constructed in 2015.

It was the fifth and final piece of MidAmerican’s Wind VIII project — the company’s largest wind project at the time and was one of the largest economic development projects in Iowa’s history.

That project, along with the Adams wind farm in Adams County (Wind IX), created more than 1,200 megawatts of wind generation capacity for customers.

Those combined projects, at the time, brought MidAmerican’s total wind generation capacity to nearly 3,500 megawatts, which represented about 42 percent of the company’s installed generation capacity.

Mike Gehringer, vice president of renewable energy, said the completion of the two 2016 projects marked a significant milestone for the company, which owns and operates more wind turbines than any utility in the nation.

-Submitted photo The access road leads to a new wind turbine at MidAmerican Energy’s Ida Grove wind project. The wind farm has 134 turbines.

“Slightly more than 10 years ago, MidAmerican didn’t own any wind energy generation,” he said. “As a company, we committed to develop wind as a resource for our customers.”

Wind XI

MidAmerican made good on its pledge, and now is on to its next project, Wind XI, a 2,000 megawatt wind generation project with new wind farms in Boone, Greene and Mahaska counties. Those wind farms will be the first Wind XI project sites selected for construction.

Other sites will be announced at a later date.

Construction on the first projects, Beaver Creek in Boone and Greene counties, and Prairie in Mahaska County, will begin in April, with completion scheduled for the end of 2017.

This project will add 338 megawatts of new wind generation capacity in Iowa. The Beaver Creek project will consist of 85 turbines, which will add 170 megawatts of wind generation capacity, while the Prairie project will finish with 84 turbines, adding 168 megawatts.

MidAmerican is working with developers, county officials and landowners at potential wind farm sites in other Iowa counties for the remainder of the Wind XI project.

Construction on those projects would begin in 2018 and 2019.

Last April, MidAmerican Energy announced plans to invest $3.6 billion for the Wind XI project and it has been deemed the largest economic development investment in Iowa’s history.

When all is said and done, the total project will consist of 1,000 wind turbines.

The entire Wind XI project is expected to be finished by December 2019. That project alone is expected to generate $12.5 million annually in property tax payments, $18 million annually in landowner payments and $48 million annually in state and local expenditures associated with the project.

Adam Jablonski, project manager for renewable energy for MidAmerican Energy, in Des Moines, said all of the Wind XI turbines will qualify for a production tax credit, a federal tax credit program with funds that go towards construction projects like these.

It comes in the amount of 2.3 cents per kilowatt. He said they have utilized those credits over the years, and that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was the first senator to support such a credit for wind energy generation. Jablonski said all production tax credit funds come from the federal level, and that no money comes from the state for these projects.

“It’s part of our economics,” he said. “It’s how we deliver that to our customers in Iowa with no cost to them.

“It’s a good incentive to produce a lot of renewable energy and to keep efficiency and productivity up.”

Once the Wind XI project is completed in 2019, Mid-American Energy’s wind generation will be equal to 85 percent of the energy used by its retail customer base in Iowa. MidAmerican hopes to eventually bring that number up to 100 percent.

“It would be unprecedented,” said Jablonski. “More than a year ago we set out looking at how we could deliver 100 percent of our customers’ annual energy usage with renewable generation without impacting their rates significantly.

“We will continue to look for other ways to fill that remaining gap.”

Why renewable?

Economic benefits for Iowa communities is expected to reach $1.2 billion as a result of landowner easements and property tax payments over the next 40 years. Thousands of jobs are expected to be added to Iowa’s economy and, once the expansion is complete, it is expected to offer hundreds of new permanent jobs.

Jablonski said the company is keeping its customers in mind as it moves toward this dramatic shift in energy generation.

“Our customers want more renewable energy, but they also want it at a reasonable rate,” he said. “MidAmerican has found a way to do that over the past 12 years. Right now we’re sitting at 37 percent below the national average for the electric retail rate, so we’re accomplishing some of those ‘wants’ for our customers.”

Jablonski said the driving force behind this change in energy generation are their customers –whom he said want their energy at reasonable rates –along with reducing their carbon emissions in their energy generation. He said Iowa is in the top 10 wind resource states nationally and he said it fits in well with agricultural areas of the state.

“When we add a wind turbine and a road it only takes out about half an acre per turbine, so it doesn’t take a lot of ground out of production,” he said, “…and it’s really welcomed by the state because of the revenue that comes in to the landowners. Wind turbines are almost becoming a part of the Iowa landscape anymore.”

He added that MidAmerican has partnered with more than 2,400 farmers over the years.

“It’s a good source of fixed income for them, it doesn’t fluctuate with the markets, and has very minimal impact on their property,” he said.

Jablonski added not all landowners are pleased when their construction projects come up, but by comparison to those who support it, there is little comparison in numbers.

He said MidAmerican Energy has, to date, paid $69 million to Iowa landowners from their projects over the years, and $65 million in property taxes to those communities, which goes to help schools, infrastructure and emergency response programs.

MidAmerican Energy has wind farms in operation or under construction in 23 Iowa counties. By the end of 2016 the company’s wind assets in the state included more than 2,020 turbines.

A statement from the company said their wind projects have spurred economic development within the state, creating thousands of construction jobs and almost 200 permanent jobs in rural Iowa. Additionally, over the next 30 years the company’s wind projects will generate more than $1.5 billion in lease payments to landowners and property tax payments to school, cities and counties.

Between 2004 and 2010, MidAmerican Energy placed nearly 1,285 megawatts of wind-powered generation into service in the Iowa counties of Adair, Buena Vista, Calhoun, Carroll, Cass, Crawford, Floyd, Hamilton, Polk, Pocahontas, Pottawattamie, Sac and Wright.

The company expanded its wind farms in Adair, Cass, Pocahontas and Calhoun counties and added two new projects — one in Adams County and one in Marshall County.

Together, the wind farms consist of 258 turbines and produce approximately 1,000 megawatts of wind-powered generation.