MidAmerican aiming for 57 percent of energy from wind

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, August 3, 2015

Bill Fehrman, CEO of MidAmerican Energy, said Monday the company could get up to 57 percent of its energy from wind with its latest renewable energy project.

And while wind’s growing presence in MidAmerican’s portfolio is encouraging, so is news that the Des Moines-based utility is looking to invest in solar projects in Iowa, with community solar gardens and utility-sized solar leading the possible options.

“We’re not ready to announce a direction yet, but we’re in discussions with a variety of interested stakeholders around doing some sort of solar pilot project in the state,” Fehrman said.

He talked with the Register as the utility’s parent, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, joined a dozen other national companies in launching the American Business Act on Climate Pledge at the White House.

The companies joining the White House pledge are mammoth — Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS and Wal-Mart.

Like Berkshire, some of the companies have a large Iowa presence, including Alcoa, Cargill, Google and Microsoft.

Ambitious green energy goals from companies like Google and Microsoft — both of which want to power its business entirely from renewable energy — are helping to drive MidAmerican’s growing wind portfolio. Both tech companies have large data center operations in Iowa.

The company has invested about $6 billion into wind energy since 2004.

Its latest project — spending $900 million to add 552 megawatts of wind — is still awaiting state regulatory approval. With the project, the utility would have more than 4,000 megawatts of renewable generation capacity by 2017, it said.

One reason the utility has invested heavily in wind is because it wanted to reduce the risk to customers with increased federal pressure to reduce emissions, including carbon dioxide.

The federal government is expected to release its final Clean Power Plan rules next month.

Solar will help with that as well.

Fehrman said MidAmerican is weighing community solar gardens, which enables consumers to buy a share of the renewable energy, because it can build them at “utility pricing.”

The gardens are “lower cost and allow the chance for customers to be part of solar, without the hassle of doing it at their homes.”

The utility is concerned about shifting costs with solar energy, particularly to low-income residents. “We want solar that creates a fair outcome for all our customers,” Fehrman said.