Bioenergy, Project Development, Wind Power

Iowa Inches Closer to Renewable Energy Goals

Iowa farmers stand to benefit as the state moves closer to its goal of generating more energy from renewable sources such as wind, crops and manure, said government and industry leaders last week. Agriculture, energy and environmental representatives gathered in Des Moines Nov. 17 for the Iowa Renewable Energy and Agriculture Conference.

West Des Moines, Iowa – November 25, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Iowa farmers stand to benefit as the state moves closer to its goal of generating more energy from renewable sources such as wind, crops and manure, said government and industry leaders last week.Agriculture, energy and environmental representatives gathered in Des Moines Nov. 17 for the Iowa Renewable Energy and Agriculture Conference. The conference served as a brainstorming session to determine what policies and programs are needed to move renewable energy forward in the state. Iowa is already experiencing rapid growth in renewable energy production. As of October 2003, Iowa was home to 10 ethanol production plants, with additional five ethanol plants under construction, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. Iowa also leads the Upper Midwest in wind energy. The state has about 400 wind turbines with a total capacity of more than 425 MW. In September 2001, an energy task force appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack set a goal of expanding the state’s renewable energy capacity to 1,000 MW by 2010. Floyd Barwig, director of the Iowa Energy Center in Ames, said the state is close to reaching its renewable energy goal.Two separate wind projects planned by Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy will build about 350 additional wind turbines in Iowa and boost the state’s renewable energy capacity by 780 MW. “We are actually quite well on our way to meeting the governor’s goal of 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity,” Barwig said. Economic impact: Several conference speakers touted the economic benefits that renewable energy could bring to Iowa. Barwig said renewable biomass resources, such as corn stover, could someday replace petroleum oil as a primary ingredient for plastics and fuels. “If you take half the corn stover in Iowa, and leave the other half on the fields for erosion control, that’s 24 million tons per year,” Barwig said. “There was a chemical plant in Harlan that was buying corn stover as a feedstock. They were paying 2 cents a pound. At 2 cents per pound, that corn stover would be worth $1 billion.” Wind energy also offers tremendous economic benefits. MidAmerican Energy is planning to build the world’s largest wind farm in northern Iowa, with 180 to 200 wind turbines. Groundbreaking on the project will begin in May 2004, and the first wind turbines will begin operating in September 2004. The MidAmerican project represents a $335 million investment in Iowa, said Tom Budler, wind energy project manager for MidAmerican. The project will generate $2 million in annual tax revenues and create 25 full-time jobs.In addition, MidAmerican will return an annual payment of $4,000 per turbine to Iowa landowners, Budler said. “We see that as a huge benefit not only to the local economy but also to the landowners themselves,” he said. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge said farmers should look at renewable energy as an opportunity to diversify beyond commodity production. “As we go forward on these renewable energy projects, I hope Iowa farmers are given a chance and, in fact, encouraged to be part of the ownership,” Judge said. Limits to growth: Before Iowa can enjoy the full economic benefits of renewable energy, industry partners need to remove the barriers preventing further expansion. An outdated electrical transmission system is hindering the construction of new wind turbines in Iowa, said Dale Osborn, with Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Inc. (MISO), which monitors Iowa’s electrical transmission system. “We’re squeezing every inch out of the transmission system to get as much wind (energy) in there as possible, but northern Iowa is almost completely filled in transmission service,” Osborn said. Accirding to the Iowa Farm Bureau, another drawback to wind energy is its reliability. July and August tend to be the least windy months in northern Iowa. However, electricity demand typically peaks in the summer months. “If you are in the middle of the summer and you need your air conditioner turned on, wind (energy) may not be there,” Osborn said. Barwig said public opinion can also serve as a limit to renewable energy. Wind-farm opponents have expressed concerns about the impact of wind turbines on birds. They have also complained that the turbines cause “visual pollution” of Iowa’s countryside. “We have the environmental community on both sides of the (renewable energy) issue,” Barwig said. “We (want) the public to understand and value the potential for renewable energy.” Story courtesy of Teresa Bjork, Iowa Farm Bureau