Wind leads energy growth in Iowa

Source: Written by Perry Beeman, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013

Turbines can cover 25% of Iowa’s power

Wind generators line up near a cattl herd southwest of Adair, Tuesday afternoon, April 26, 2011. (John Gaps III/The Register)

 Wind generators line up near a cattl herd southwest of Adair, Tuesday afternoon, April 26, 2011. (John Gaps III/The Register)

Iowa is among several states now getting more than 20 percent of its power from wind, a key reason wind energy was the fastest-growing power-generation sector for the first time in 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy reported Tuesday.

Wind accounted for 43 percent of all new electricity generation last year, after a $25 billion run of new projects, the department reported.

“The tremendous growth in the U.S. wind industry over the past few years underscores the importance of consistent policy that ensures America remains a leader in clean energy innovation,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “As the fastest-growing source of power in the United States, wind is paving the way to a cleaner, more sustainable future that protects our air and water and provides affordable, clean renewable energy to more and more Americans.”

Iowa now has the capacity to generate about 25 percent of its power from wind — the largest percentage nationally — with the industry supporting 6,000 to 7,000 direct and indirect jobs last year, the agency reported. South Dakota and Kansas also get more than 20 percent of their power from wind.

Iowa installed 814 megawatts of new wind power capacity, bringing its total to over 5,100 MW, third in the country. More is on the way after MidAmerican Energy in May announced a plans to add up to 1,050 MW of wind generation with up to 656 new wind turbines by the end of 2015

Nationally, the U.S. wind grid grew by 13 gigawatts, nearly double the additions in 2011. That brought the national total wind capacity to 60 gigawatts, enough to power the 15 million homes in the states of California and Washington combined.

The country’s wind energy capacity now is 22 times what it was in 2000.

The energy department warned that installations may slow in the next year or so due to uncertainties over the future of tax credits and other federal policy support for wind.

Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, said Congress’ failure to extend the tax credit long-term led both to last year’s building boom and to predictions that this year and 2014 will be much slower.

“It, like a lot of other important legislation — the farm bill, immigration — is hung up in the politics in Congress right now,” Prior said of the tax credit.

Still, he’s bullish. “I think it will happen, but for how long is anybody’s guess,” Prior said. “I think we’ll experience more brinkmanship in the process.”

The tax credit expires at the end of this year, though projects under way before then will qualify under certain circumstances.

Prior said widespread improvements in the grid have helped make wind more of a factor nationally. “Wind is cheaper and there is no fuel price instability,” Prior said.

Nathaniel Baer, who follows energy issues for the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council, said wind energy is ramping up because the utility-scale projects are faster and easier to build than natural-gas or nuclear plants. And with wind energy’s cost as low as 4 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s more competitive than ever, he added.

He suspects Congress will back tax breaks for wind energy long-term. “The extension is a good signal,” Baer said. “Clearly, wind is an important energy source both for the environment and the economy. I think policymakers recognize the importance of expanding wind.”