Comment: A company’s perspective on why wind energy matters

Source: By Jonathan M. Weisgall, Vice President, Berkshire Energy, The • Posted: Sunday, February 1, 2015

The largest economic development project in Iowa history isn’t by the real estate industry or even the ethanol industry. It’s by the wind industry.

A Berkshire Hathaway company, MidAmerican Energy, is about halfway done with building up to $1.9 billion worth of wind farms in Iowa. We will be able to able to utilize wind resources in a manner that can represent the equivalent of about half the needs of our retail customers by 2016.

Why are we investing in wind? Well, we look at five factors.We like wind because it is a hedge against fossil prices. We know the 30-year cost for our wind farms. You can’t say the same for a gas plant.

Secondly, wind helps the resource diversity of the grid, improving our energy security. Potential delivery challenges with natural gas and other factors make diversity important to keeping the lights on, as well as avoiding spikes in consumers’ electric bills.

Our customers want wind resources — that’s the third key factor. We’ve got tech companies customers that have built data centers in Iowa because they’re committed to the environment. The availability of wind resources gave Iowa a competitive advantage over other states when the state was competing to get those companies to invest.

These industrial-scale consumers also want long-term assurance of stable prices. Because wind has no fuel costs associated with it, it can keep those rates stable. In fact, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) recently said of MidAmerican Energy that our “commitment to wind garners long-lasting benefits and makes Iowa a competitive economic force, not only in the United States, but also in the world.”

The fourth factor is economic development. It’s not just our high-tech customers who want wind resource availability, our rural customers want it. Our rural communities have benefitted from wind resources because it provides property taxes to the county and lease payments to landowners. For example, our $1.9 billion project is going to result in landowner payments of more than $3 million a year. Farmers see wind as a cash crop.

And the last point, and perhaps the most obvious, is that we’re pursuing wind resources because it is a proven technology that can address federal environmental policies. It’s a key element in our balanced approach to a resource technology mix.

Wind resource investment has been good for our customers, it’s good for the environment, and it’s certainly been good for the state of Iowa. That’s why Berkshire Hathaway sees it as a good investment.

Weisgall is vice president for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs at Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co.