New Iowa wind farms coming in Madison, Marshall, Grundy, Webster and O’Brien counties

Source: by William Petroski, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mid American Energy said Monday it plans to build its new Iowa wind energy farms, costing up to $1.9 billion, in Madison, Marshall, Grundy, O’Brien and Webster counties.

The utility company’s announcement of the sites follows an order issued Friday by the Iowa Utilities Board that allows it to develop up to 1,050 megawatts of additional wind energy in Iowa by the end of 2015.

The company said in May it would expand its wind electricity production in Iowa, but it didn’t disclose what counties would host the turbines. On Monday, MidAmerican officials said they are working with county officials and landowners and have secured development and interconnection rights for the wind farm sites in the five Iowa counties. Construction is expected to begin in September, and all projects are scheduled for completion before the end of 2015.

“The best way to meet our customers’ energy needs is to provide reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible energy through a diversified generation portfolio,” said MidAmerican Energy President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Fehrman. “The wind expansion will help stabilize electric rates over the long term for our customers and also demonstrates MidAmerican Energy’s commitment to lessen the environmental impact created by the process of electrical generation.”

Gov. Terry Branstad, speaking at his weekly Iowa Statehouse news conference on Monday, spoke enthusiastically about MidAmerican’s plans.

“We are excited about this. It is a huge project, and it is a win-win for everybody,” Branstad said.

MidAmerican Energy expects to pay landowners $3.2 million annually for the rights to use their land for the turbines, and to generate more than $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years.

MidAmerican Energy, which serves serving 714,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota, has said the project will create 460 construction jobs over two years. It will also create 48 permanent jobs, primarily workers needed to maintain the 656 wind turbines the utility will build through 2015.

The permanent jobs will create $2.4 million annually in pay for workers, MidAmerican said.

Rob Hillesland, a spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board, said Monday the board on Friday approved advance ratemaking principles for the proposed electric generation project and the utility has now announced publicly that it intends to proceed with the project.

“In establishing advance ratemaking principles, through an approved settlement filed by the Office of Consumer Advocate and MidAmerican in this case, the Board provides some indication of the future regulatory treatment that certain aspects of the project will receive if it is constructed and included in a future rate case – for example, a 11.625 return on common equity and a 30-year depreciable life in this case,” Hillesland said.

Customer rates are not affected by this board decision and the company has indicated that cost benefits of the project will be shared with its customers, phased in over time initially, Hillesland added.

The electric generation capability for MidAmerican Energy will comprise approximately 39 percent wind, 33 percent coal, 18 percent natural gas, 6 percent nuclear and 4 percent other by July 2016. The wind expansion will have no impact on the company’s current Iowa rate case, company officials said.

The utility has promised the project will “be built at no net cost to the company’s customers.” The added wind generation is expected to cut consumer rates by $3.3 million in 2015 and it will increase to $10 million annually by 2017, the company said.

MidAmerican’s new investment pushes the utility’s investment in wind to about $6 billion. The company has already erected 1,267 wind turbines, many in western and north-central Iowa. This makes MidAmerican Energy the largest rate-regulated utility owner of wind generation in the nation, officials said.

MidAmerican is not seeking state assistance for the project, but it will receive federal wind production tax credits.