Iowa hosts American Wind Energy Association conference


September 15th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Many of the top players in the wind energy industry from around the world are gathered in Iowa this week. Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, says Des Moines was selected as the site for the industry’s largest conference because Iowa recently became the first state to generate at least 20 percent of its electricity from wind power. “The American Wind Energy Association really wants to showcase Iowa’s success and Iowa as an example of what the nation would look like, in terms of job creation and enhanced economic development potential, if we can get the entire nation to 20-percent of our electric generation portfolio coming from the wind energy industry,” Prior said.

Iowa currently has more than 2,500 wind turbines creating over 4,000 megawatts of electricity. Projects that are underway are expected to boost that energy output to 5,000 megawatts by the end of 2012. In December 2010, MidAmerican Energy announced a 593.4-megawatt expansion. That includes 193, 2.3-megawatt turbines, which are currently being erected in east- and southeastern- Cass, northeastern Adams, and southwest Adair counties as part of the “Rolling Hills Wind Project,” which is expected to be finished by the end of the year. Those turbines will produce enough energy to power 190,000 homes. The project is one of the largest Mid-American has developed, and likely one of the largest in the country, according a company spokesman.

Other turbines in the company’s expansion project are being built in Marshall and Calhoun Counties. When the project is complete, approximately 26 percent of MidAmerican Energy’s total generation capacity will come from wind. Prior says one of the biggest challenges facing the wind industry involves transmitting the energy from where it’s generated to where it can be used. “The transmission grid in the United States, as a whole, has not seen really significant upgrades in 50 years,” Prior said. “We’re going to have to modernize the electrical transmission grid one way or another.” He notes several large transmission projects are already planned or are under construction.

Another critical issue to continued growth, according to Prior, is the extension of a federal production tax credit for the wind energy industry. The credit is set to expire in December 2012. Prior says all forms of energy production are given tax credits, but some industries enjoy better terms. “The advantage that the older carbon-based forms of generation have is they’re subsidized through the tax code,” Prior said. “Their subsidies don’t come up for consideration and renewal because they’ve been in the tax code, in some cases, for 90 years.” The American Wind Energy Association reports the industry is on track to reach a goal of 20-percent of the country’s electricity coming from wind by the year 2030. In order to reach that goal, the industry will need to install an additional 60-thousand (60,000) wind turbines over the next 18 years.

(Radio Iowa/file data)