Iowa renewable energy: 2018 outlook is bright

The state’s wind energy industry is headed to new heights

- File photo
Both Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy continue to expand within their wind energy efforts. Alliant Energy has announced a $900 million project in the state while MidAmerican Energy is working to replace and improve some of the components to help extend the life of their existing turbines.

Iowa’s wind energy industry is headed for new heights, literally and figuratively, as 2018 begins.

John Boorman, vice president of the Iowa Wind Energy Association (IWEA) board, capsulized some of the work going on in the state, saying Alliant Energy has committed to a $900 million project in Iowa, and MidAmerican Energy is working on a “refitting” project — replacing and improving some of the components on its turbines to extend the life of them and make them run more efficiently.

“Those things will only result in more jobs and economic activity representing the state of Iowa,” said Boorman.

He added Iowa previously held the No. 2 position in the nation in regard to wind energy generation. It was surpassed in late 2017 by Oklahoma.

Currently, Texas is first in wind generation, followed by Oklahoma, and then Iowa.

- File photo
Both Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy continue to expand within their wind energy efforts. Alliant Energy has announced a $900 million project in the state while MidAmerican Energy is working to replace and improve some of the components to help extend the life of their existing turbines.

“In Iowa, we added 397 megawatts in wind power capacity in 2017, and Oklahoma was nipping on our heels last year, but they passed us because they put in 851 megawatts of capacity additions,” said Boorman. “We got displaced, but we’re still adding capacity.”

Much of the expansion in wind energy has gone on in northwest Iowa.

“We’re seeing more action in central and eastern Iowa for larger projects, too, but our best wind regime is in northwest Iowa,” Boorman said, adding that technology and the ability to manufacture more efficient turbines with better blade designs that can operate in a lower wind regime — lower sustained winds — has continued to advance and open up other parts of the state for proposed wind farms that make financial sense.

He said the wind industry is doing a better job of collecting wind energy in the northwest quadrant of Iowa, creating turbines that can collect wind in speeds of only 4 miles per hour. That was not previously possible, but new blade technology is now making it possible. Blades are being designed longer, helping them reach new heights to gather wind at higher altitudes.

Boorman said wind energy production accounts for more than 8,000 jobs in the state, and added a report just released indicates 15,000 jobs for wind energy production by 2020.

- File photo According to the Iowa Wind Energy Association, 397 megawatts of wind energy was added in Iowa in 2017. Iowa is currently the third largest wind generating state behind Texas and Oklahoma.

MidAmerican Energy

MidAmerican Energy is currently refitting/replacing blades on their turbines to improve their financial performance.

“The fuel price is less for wind — it’s zero for wind,” Boorman said. “So if you’re getting more power out of those turbines, you’ll get higher output into the cost of capital and it gives you better financial performance over the long-term — more megawatts coming out.”

He said the new turbines will generate between 19 and 28 percent more power, and added the company is pursuing a plan to eventually get to 100 percent renewable energy.

According to information from MidAmerican Energy, in August 2016, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) approved MidAmerican’s request to invest $3.6 billion to install additional wind turbines in Iowa by year-end 2019. The project — Wind XI — is the largest economic development project in Iowa’s history, company officials said.

That project alone is estimated to generate an average of $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 that project.

Construction on the 170-megawatt Beaver Creek wind project in Boone and Greene counties and the 168-megawatt Prairie Wind project in Mahaska County began last spring. The Beaver Creek project and 164 megawatts of the Prairie Wind project were placed in service late in 2017. The remaining four megawatts at the Prairie Wind project were placed in service early in January of this year.

Beaver Creek consists of 85 turbines, while the Prairie Wind project consists of 84 turbines.

Officials with MidAmerican added that construction at the North English wind farm (also part of Wind XI) in Poweshiek County began last fall and is expected to be finished in December of 2018.

The total 2,000 megawatt Wind XI project is expected to be fully complete in late 2019, and by the end of 2020, the annual renewable energy generation is expected to reach a level equivalent to more than 90 percent of MidAmerican customers’ annual retail usage.

Alliant Energy

Alliant Energy announced early this year that it will spend an additional $900 million on wind energy expansion in Iowa.

Alliant Energy is expected to add one gigawatt of wind power with a total investment around $1.8 billion by 2020. This new project, along with their Whispering Wind Willows project, will supply enough energy to power 430,000 homes.

“We are truly excited by Alliant Energy’s announcement,” said Boorman. “It’s imperative that wind projects like these continue to sprout in Iowa … Iowans have seen before the positive effects wind turbines and wind energy has in our state.”

“New wind projects help us keep energy costs stable for our customers,” added Mike Wagner, spokesman for Alliant Energy. “We have a diverse energy mix, and more wind equates to one generation source, making it cheaper for our customers.”

Alliant Energy received approval for a similar project expansion in 2016. Still in the works, it has a price tag of $1 billion and is expected to add 500 megawatts of energy to Iowa. The turbines turn up to a higher power when the wind slows down, offsetting any decreasing natural wind.

The location of the new wind energy project will be determined once approval for the project is received. Alliant Energy expects that more than one third of its Iowa energy will be wind-driven by 2020.

RedRock Wind Project

The new RedRock Wind Project — part of Tradewind Energy in Lenaxa, Kansas — is proposing to locate approximately 100 miles northeast of Sioux City in Emmet, Palo Alto and Dickinson counties.

It would consist of 180 turbines and generate enough energy to power 108,000 homes annually.

Company officials said it would likely involve nearly 150 landowners and 84,000 acres of farm land. They have been discussing the project with landowners.

After construction and restoration, the RedRock Wind Project is expected to use approximately 1 to 2 percent of the total land surface for turbines, access roads and other facilities.

Once it is no longer operational, company officials said the project will be decommissioned, and facilities will be removed in accordance with lease agreements and county regulations.

The officials added generating wind power creates no emissions and uses no water, saving Iowa 3.5 billion gallons annually. They also said Iowa wind eliminates 5.9 million metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to 1.3 million cars’ worth of emissions yearly, and that it eliminates emission of sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and toxic heavy metals released into the air by traditional electric generation.

Tradewind Energy said wind is less expensive than new conventional electric generation and eliminates fuel and transportation cost risks over the long term.

Boorman said one study shows that 92 percent of people living close to wind turbines are fairly accepting of them, being neutral, positive or very positive.

He went on to say that, as the wind energy industry has matured, it is bringing in good-paying jobs and is gradually bringing more people back to live and raise their families in rural America. Property taxes from the turbines go into counties and townships, creating more financial opportunities and money that goes back into these entities.

Statistics from the IWEA show that Iowa features 3,957 wind turbines, boasts 6,917 megawatts of installed wind capacity, creates 36 percent of electricity, and 9,000 jobs in the state are supported by wind energy production.