Iowa Utility to Build Another Gigawatt of Wind Power by 2015

The state continues to lead the way on wind energy, thanks to the new $1.9 billion plan

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Iowa Utility to Build Another Gigawatt of Wind Power by 2015

Texas and California are the two biggest states in the country by population, and second and third by area. So it's no surprise they're one-two on the installed wind power state ranking list. But what's Iowa—26th biggest by area and 30th by population—doing there at third place?

Iowa, already impressive in its wind power progress, continues its march into the energy future with one of it's two main utilities announcing plans to build US $1.9 billion worth of new turbines by 2015. MidAmerican Energy says the project's 656 new turbines will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenues and will arrive at zero extra expense to utility customers. In fact, after only a few years of operation, ratepayers will see a decrease in electricity bills thanks to the 1050 megawatts of new wind.

That full gigawatt of power joins more than 5 GW already installed in the Hawkeye State through the end of 2012, and would add about 1.5 percent to the total installed capacity in the U.S. And though Iowa may be smaller than Texas and California by just about any measure that doesn't include corn production, in 2012 it led the way in percentage of electricity generation from wind, at 24.5 percent. According to Iowa's own wind industry group, the installed capacity is enough for about 1.1 million homes; guess how many households the state even has. Yup, just over 1.2 million.

So what gives? Some of it is grandfathered in at this point, with a historically strong wind industry in the region leading residents to welcome the sight of wind energy towers instead of resent them. And yes, there is a lot of wind to go around: 26th in size, but seventh in total wind resource, with an enormous 570 000 potential megawatts floating in the first 100 meters off the ground. But interestingly, state policies aren't really pushing the rotors of wind power in Iowa: While the state does have a renewable energy portfolio standard, it sets a weak goal, in terms of megawatts rather than a percentage. California, by contrast, requires itself to have 33 percent of electricity from renewables by 2020; Iowa's now-ancient standard (passed in 1983) calls for 105 MW from renewables divided between the two main utilities. The state passed that mark long ago.

Whatever the reason, the $1.9 billion in new turbines suggests Iowa isn't ready to slow down, even though now it can essentially power every home in the state with just those spinning blades.

Photo: JG Photography/Alamy 

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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