Iowa poised to move back up in wind power production ranking

Source: By Dar Danielson, Iowa Radio • Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2015

Iowa remains third in the country for the amount of electricity produced by wind power, but could move up as more projects are built this year.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released its annual report on wind production today and it shows Iowa in third place behind Texas and California.

AWEA analyst, Emily Williams says 2014 saw a record number of new wind turbines built as the industry saw a rebound.

“The top states for new additions during the fourth quarter, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Washington and Colorado were the top states there,” Williams says. There is more than 12,700 megawatts of wind power under construction across 98 projects in 23 states.

“Texas leads the way with over 7,500 megawatts under construction. New Mexico and Kansas are both over 650 megawatts under construction. Iowa is right around 550 and North Dakota at 535 are the top states,” Williams says.

All the construction in Iowa will have an impact on its future ranking when it comes to overall wind energy production. Williams says, “Iowa is on track to regain it’s number two ranking from California.” Iowa had moved into second place in wind power production in 2008 and held that until California surpassed the state in 2012. Williams says technology is one of the reasons for the building boom in wind power. “And we’ve seen turbines coming out with much longer blades, so they are able to catch more of the wind. So, 80-percent of the turbines that were installed in 2014 had a wider diameter of 100 meters or greater — so from tip-to-tip 100 meters,” Williams says. “And this is really again opening up new areas of the country for development, and also allowing developers to get more energy out of the wind.”

AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan says sustaining the growth in the industry faces a challenge this year as the wind energy tax credit expired. He says it’s a top priority to get the credit reinstated. “We believe we need a stable, reasonable, predictable policy going forward in the production tax credit…when there has been uncertainty in the PTC, it’s led to between a 70 and 92-percent drop in the wind industry,” Kiernan says. He says the uncertainty in 2013 before the credit was extended led to cutbacks and some 50,000 people laid off.

Kiernan says they are not seeking a permanent tax credit, but do need a credit to help continue building the industry and bringing the price of wind energy down. “We have a near-record amount of wind energy under construction, approximately 12,000 megawatts under construction, so the industry is coming on strong as a result of this previous PTC extension. But what’s most important, we don’t want this industry to go off the cliff again,” Kiernan says.

John Weisgall, a vice president for Berkshire Hathaway, which owns MidAmerican energy company, joined AWEA leaders for the release of the wind numbers. MidAmerican is responsible for a large portion of the wind production in Iowa, and notes the state is at the top when you look at the percentage of state’s power generated from wind.

“Iowa by far is the leader and actually will be able to produce enough energy from wind to meet the equivalent of half the electricity needs of our retail customers by 2016,” Weisgall says. MidAmerican is about half-way through with a $1.9 billion wind facility that is called the biggest economic development project in Iowa’s history. Weisgall was asked about the factors that have driven MidAmerican’s investment in wind. He says wind energy gives them a projected 30-year cost of production they don’t get with other sources, and he says there’s an increasing demand for it.

“Our customers want wind, that’s really a key factor. We’ve got customers like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, they’ve built data centers in Iowa, and they’ve built them because they are committed to using green energy resources,” Weisgall explains. “The availability of so much wind gave Iowa a competitive advantage over other states when the state was competing to get those companies to invest.”

He says the benefits of wind energy extend well beyond those who use it. “It’s been very good for our rural communities, there are property tax benefits, there are lease benefits,” Weisgall says. ” That 1.9 billion project that you mentioned, that’s going to result in land-donor payments of $3 million a year. Farmers kind of see wind as you will as a second cash crop,” Weisgall says.

Iowa generates 5,688 megawats of wind power, just behind California’s 5,917 megawatts. Texas, the leader is well out in front of every other state with 14,094 megawatts of wind power.