Iowa Wind energy advocates are warned of challenges

Source: DAN PILLER, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012

The shadow of inexpensive natural gas hovered over the annual meeting of the Iowa Wind Energy Association in Des Moines on Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Ia., warned the association that “a war is being waged against renewable energy.”

“The oil and gas industry has enormous influence, and there is an increasingly competitive environment on energy legislation in Washington, D.C.,” the congressman said.

The recent glut of domestic natural gas production from new shale fields has dropped natural gas prices to a 10-year low. Denise Bode, president of the American Wind Energy Association, said in an interview at the convention that wind and natural gas now are competitors in the utility generation market.

“We’re on their radar screen,” Bode said. “They’ve made us leaner and tougher.”

Bode noted that in 2011, natural gas represented 42 percent of all new electricity generation, while wind energy held at 35 percent.

At least two efforts to tie renewal of wind energy’s production tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour to other tax bills have failed this year, despite the united support of Iowa’s congressional delegation.

Unlike wind, natural gas can be stored and already has a pipeline transportation infrastructure.

Bode and other wind advocates say that a major upgrade of the nation’s electricity transmission system is needed to take wind to the next level.

Wind energy’s production tax credit expires at the end of this year, and the Iowa Wind Energy Association’s Harold Prior warns that many of Iowa’s 4,000 manufacturing and support jobs in the wind energy industry could be at risk.

David Bennett, an instructor in wind energy technology at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, implored the four Iowa congressmen at the event — Braley, fellow Democrat Leonard Boswell and Republicans Steve King and Tom Latham — to work to continue the production tax credit.

Bennett said that he has 40 students signed up for his classes next year, with a waiting list, and that “young people are trying to grasp technology for jobs they can tie into. It is important to young people and is discouraging to hear that companies may be laying off people.”

Mark Parriot, general manager of the TPI Composites plant at Newton, said: “I’ve got 800 jobs on the line back at the plant. The production tax credit needs to be extended.” TPI is a provider of composite wind blades to turbine manufacturers.

Iowa is the nation’s No. 2 state in wind energy production. It will have 4,250 megawatts of wind capacity online later this year after MidAmerican Energy completes the second leg of a 1,000-megawatt expansion of its Iowa wind farm complex.