Comment: The transmission of wind energy is vital for Iowa’s future

Source: Pat Higby, Center for Energy and Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa, Waterloo Cedar Falls, Courier • Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wind is as plentiful in Iowa as corn and soybeans. Unfortunately, while the latter commodities have easy access to roads, rail and rivers to move them, once the wind is converted to energy it does not. Because of this, it is crucial for us to invest in the future of Iowa by installing transmission lines that allow wind energy to be sold locally and nationally. The financial impact of the transmission lines will be felt across Iowa and beyond.

As of April, Iowa was named the top state in the nation for the percentage of electricity generated by wind at 24.7 percent of total electricity produced. This is excellent and should be a point of pride for all Iowans. But much of our wind is not harvested. Our currently installed wind turbines only produce one percent of Iowa’s wind production potential. Many Iowa farmers want turbines installed on their land, but can’t do it because of lack of transmission. With more transmission lines we can install more wind turbines, and Iowa could provide power across America. A transmission line, such as the Rock Island Clean Line, could establish Iowa as the production and transmission center in the U.S. This will not just be a win for Iowa, it will be a win for everyone using the electricity.

President Barack Obama has set a national goal to secure 25 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources. According to the American Wind Energy Association, nearly 300,000 megawatts of wind projects are waiting to connect to a grid. This energy resource represents enough energy to fulfill 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs if it was connected to energy distribution centers. Our current inadequate level of transmission capacity is delaying this progress, and Iowa could lead the way in installing necessary transmission lines to maximize our vast wind resource.

In addition to increasing access to clean energy for Illinois and other states further east, transmission lines also grow Iowa’s economy and provide good-paying jobs, creating higher employment throughout the state so communities are able to grow and thrive. In addition to the construction and manufacturing jobs supported by installing a transmission line, hundreds of jobs will go to maintenance and improvement of the lines. In fact, Iowa community colleges and universities are also training engineers to design the next generation of turbines and wind technicians to maintain these multibillion-dollar investment projects. Additionally, the University of Northern Iowa, where I work as the energy education and outreach coordinator, trains students and faculty to take leadership roles in creating more sustainable communities by connecting them to wind energy projects.

Billions of dollars of investment in Iowa communities accompanies any transmission project. The installing company will pay property taxes to the counties with transmission towers — taxes that will go to fund schools, economic development projects and infrastructure updates. With a prosperous economy, more money can be invested in Iowa and provide for our children’s future. Furthermore, Iowa businesses will flourish with the influx of construction workers and other temporary workers who will help install the line. These individuals will need to eat, sleep, shop and be entertained in Iowa counties while they install this line, increasing profits for restaurants, hotels and retailers.

Iowa is a leader in wind energy. We also need to be a leader in creating the infrastructure of transmission lines to share that energy with the rest of America. Infrastructure has always been the cornerstone of American progress, and wind energy is no exception. We are a state that exports food and fuel through many markets daily. The coupling of wind energy and transmission projects will encourage farm-to-market routes that allow millions of people to access lower priced electricity. Let’s send our extra electricity to market instead of wasting this important energy source.

If we want the future of Iowa to be prosperous and want to continue to be a top wind energy producing and supplying state, we must invest in the future and install transmission lines.