About 15% of Iowa's electricity generation capacity now comes from wind, maintaining the state's national leadership, according to a report released in April by the American Wind Energy Association. With a major expansion in wind turbines being installed by MidAmerican Energy in several counties in the state, the percentage of Iowa's electricity generated by wind will rise to 20% this year.
"That's a percentage close to what we see in Europe, and it's exciting," says Denise Bode, chief executive of the association. Iowa's capacity is expected to continue rising in the future with the major expansion by utilities and with projects by local communities and individual farmers.
Iowa still ranks second nationally in wind power generation capacity with 3,675 megawatts, behind Texas' 10,085 megawatts but still ahead of California's 3,177. Because of Texas' larger population and electricity grid, only about 8% of the electricity in Texas is generated from wind. Thus, Iowa's 15% of total electric generating capacity coming from wind exceeds Texas' 7.8% of total capacity.
Iowa's wind power generation capacity is continuing to rise
Iowa's total is growing this year with addition of 593 megawatts by MidAmerican in Calhoun, Cass, Adams, Adair and Marshall counties. The expansions will bring Des Moines-based MidAmerican to 2,316 megawatts of capacity, the largest utility-owned and operated wind generation business in the nation.
Alliant Energy, another large utility in Iowa, ranks fifth among utility wind owners in the U.S., with 267 megawatts generated by wind. One megawatt can power between 200 and 500 homes.
"There are several other wind turbine projects in Iowa, not as large as MidAmerican, but significant, that we expect to be in development this year," says Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association. Tradewinds Energy, based in Kansas City, has planned two 300 megawatt projects in Iowa, in Poweshiek and Washington counties.
Iowa leads in percentage of electricity generated from wind
Iowa maintained its national position in 2010 as the number one state in percentage of electricity generating capacity coming from wind, despite 2010 being a difficult year for the wind industry in general. Congress declined to pass a national renewable electricity standard, and the delay in approval of the production tax credits for wind farms kept several projects sidelined.
The investment community needs assurance that projects won't be hit with a tax increase every year, says Bode.
Another problem for wind energy development that has come about in the last two years has been the discovery of larger deposits of natural gas, a fuel environmentally friendly enough to be a rival to wind. Natural gas is used by utilities to run a number of the nation's power generation plants. In 2010, 40% of all new utility generation was natural gas fired, compared with 26% for wind.
Lower natural gas prices; lack of electricity transmission system
"The fact that natural gas prices have declined from record levels of three years ago has made gas a more competitively attractive fuel," notes Bode. "But an advantage of wind is it has stable prices that can be locked in for 20 to 30 years."
Two other problems for wind are the inability to store wind energy and the lack of an interstate transmission system to take electricity from the wind-rich Upper Midwest to markets in Chicago and cities to the east.
The transmission issue has generated opposition from eastern utilities and political leaders interested in getting offshore Atlantic Ocean wind development started. Their advocates have resisted proposals that costs of multistate transmission lines, estimated as high as $25 billion, be borne by all users along the system. The question of who will pay for the system is crucial.
In Iowa, an experimental project in Dallas County west of Des Moines to store wind energy is being funded by the Iowa Municipal Utilities group and the Iowa Power Fund. It has sunk test wells to try to develop underground storage of wind energy. The idea is the energy can be released to run generators at times when wind isn't blowing to power turbines above ground.
SUMMING UP: The report says the top users of wind-generated electricity as a percentage of their total electric generation are: Iowa (15%), North Dakota (12%), Minnesota (10%), South Dakota (8%), Kansas (7%). The top producers in terms of megawatts are Texas (10,085), Iowa (3,675), California (3,177), Minnesota (2,192). Washington and Oregon are tied with 2,104 megawatts each.