Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Wind Blows Strong in Iowa

One of the characteristics of America's Great Plains is the abundance of wind. A flat topography, thermal heating and migrating weather systems contribute to the wind blowing mainly in the plains.  One farm state had an early vision (1983) of what the free wind could provide residents in copious amounts-- energy.  Last year Iowa generated 31% of its electrical power from wind turbines scattered across the state, making it first in the nation for the share of renewable power generated by wind and second in the nation for total installed capacity.  The industry, which includes eleven manufacturing facilities, supports 6000 to 7000 jobs and pays out $15-20 million annually in lease payments.

Even an energy source that produces those kind of happy stats is not without detractors.  Some Iowans have concerns about withdrawing fertile farm land from agriculture for leasing to wind turbines.  The Grundy County zoning board turned down two wind projects because of agricultural concerns.  The decisions were overturned by the county supervisors. One farmer who leased some of his property to a wind company observed that more land is taken up by a highway than wind turbines which he says take about an acre each.  Others express concerns over turbine noise and the impact on birds such as the bald eagle that is making a comeback in Iowa with an increase in pairs for two decades, mostly along the Mississippi River.  These are valid concerns, but the beneficial effects of wind power cannot be ignored.  In 2014 the state avoided dumping 5.9 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere and saved 3.5 billion gallons of water.  Apparently even the corn likes wind generated power; a scientist at Iowa State says turbines help stir the air and drive carbon dioxide down to plant level where the crops use it in photosynthesis, increasing the weight of grain.

The renewal of the energy production tax credit in 2015 will help continue Iowa's momentum in the wind energy field. Wind companies are looking to make investments in energy infrastructure there, and electrical cooperatives are diversifying their energy portfolios by seeking out sources of renewable energy. A defunct Maytag plant in Newton was converted in 2009 to building turbine towers; the plant's 250 workers now have an economic future thanks to wind power.  Wind industry officials estimate $8 to $10 billion will be invested in Iowa over the next five years.  Iowa Lakes Cooperative generates 12% of its total load with wind, and avoids transmission costs by siting wind projects near load centers like ethanol production plants. Surprisingly Iowans, accused by cynical punks of only watching their corn grow, are taking pride in their state's generation of so much green power.  As Professor Takle put it to Yale environment360, "we don't have mountains or an ocean, but we can feel good about generating clean energy".  US Person issues Green Kudos to Iowa!