Wind energy project blows away record

Source: Tim Gallagher, Business Journal, Sioux City Journal • Posted: Monday, June 24, 2013

Iowa’s largest utility on May 8 announced the $1.9 billion initiative, which represents the largest economic development investment in state history

Gov. Terry Branstad said sites near MidAmerican’s existing wind farms in western Iowa are under consideration for the new turbines. Company officials said specific locations would be announced later this summer.

In Northwest Iowa, MidAmerican wind projects currently are located in Buena Vista, Sac, Pocahontas, Calhoun, Crawford and Carroll counties. Another cluster is found in southwest Iowa, south of Interstate 80.

Greg Abel, chairman, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. – the utility’s parent company – said the wind expansion will enhance economic development and provide more than $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years.

The project is expected to create about 460 construction jobs over a two-year period and an estimated 48 permanent jobs in Iowa, he said. Landowner payments totaling $3.2 million per year also are expected as a result of the added turbines.

In addition, the expansion is planned to be built at no net cost to MidAmerican customers and will help stabilize long-term electric rates by providing a rate reduction totaling $10 million per year by 2017, beginning with a $3.3 million reduction in 2015, Abel added

The new turbines would generate as much as 1,050 megawatts of power in Iowa by the end of 2015.

MidAmerican President and CEO Bill Fehrman, president and CEO, MidAmerican Energy.Fehrman said construction would start before the end of the year to ensure that the project qualifies for a federal tax credit for wind production. The credit, first enacted in 1992, was extended by Congress earlier this year.

The expansion is subject to approval by the Iowa Utilities Board, which MidAmerican hopes will make a final decision by September. If given the go-ahead, the utility will own and operate about 3,335 megawatts of wind generation capacity in Iowa by the end of 2015.

“The proposed wind expansion will not only add to MidAmerican Energy’s and Iowa’s position as a national leader in wind generation capacity, it will help reduce future rates to our customers by as much as $10 million per year and further enhance our corporate principle of environmental respect by reducing our carbon footprint by 10.3 percent,” Ferhman said at the May 8 news conference in Des Moines.

MidAmerican began building wind farms in 2004 with the construction of Intrepid, a 175.5 megawatt site in Buena Vista and Sac counties near Schaller.

To date, the Des Moines-based company has installed 1,267 wind turbines in Iowa, which accounts for a total investment of about $4 billion. With 2,285 megawatts of wind generation capacity in Iowa, MidAmerican is No. 1 in the U.S. for ownership of wind generation capacity among rate-regulated utilities

In light of the recent renewal of federal production tax credit extension, Abel said the company wants to expand its wind generation capacity to enhance its renewables portfolio.

MidAmerican estimates that by January 2016, when all new wind generation is expected to be operating, it may be capable of generating about 39 percent of its retail generation output through wind power during that month.

The utility’s wind energy expansion tops CF Industries’ $1.7 billion expansion of its Port Neal fertilizer plant as the states largest-ever economic development project. The CF project was announced Nov. 1.

MidAmerican, which operates twin coal-fired plants at Port Neal, provides electrical service to 734,000 customers and natural gas service to 714,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. It is headquartered in Des Moines.