USA - Iowa's harvest of wind

New deal, tax credit to help community energy

A pledge by MidAmerican Energy Co. and a renewed state tax credit could help farmers and other rural residents harness Iowa's wind. Under an agreement with the Iowa Farmers Union, MidAmerican will buy up to 40 megawatts of electricity from small, so-called community-based wind projects. Also, in its final hours Wednesday, the Iowa Legislature approved a tax credit for small producers. The agreement may give farmers like Victor Tomka of Carroll and Gregg Heide of Pomeroy another "crop" by harvesting the persistent winds that blow over much of Iowa.

Tomka wants to put together a group of relatives and farmers who want to collectively generate 20 megawatts of electricity. Heide is working on a 2-megawatt project on his own. Iowa farmers have used the wind to pump water or grind grain for years, but the state has only recently begun to develop wind power for generating electricity. Iowa ranks third, behind California and Texas, in the amount of installed wind power. Interest in erecting wind turbines and selling the electricity to utilities has mushroomed among farmers and rural residents.

"We see this as another opportunity for farmers and others to add value to agriculture, just like an ethanol plant," Heide said. "It's important for us to keep those dollars earned from wind generation in the local communities." Some would-be wind turbine owners have been frustrated by utilities and rural electric cooperatives that have been reluctant to buy electricity generated by small-scale, privately owned wind turbines. Dean Crist, vice president of regulation for MidAmerican, said the agreement to buy the energy was part of the Iowa Utilities Board's approval of MidAmerican's request to build up to 545 megawatts of additional wind-powered electric generation in Iowa.

MidAmerican generates 360.5 million megawatts of electricity on company-owned and -operated wind farms in northwest and north-central Iowa. Heide, who is a state director of the Farmers Union, said the farm organization wants utilities to buy more electricity from farmer-owned wind turbines. "When we heard that MidAmerican was planning a wind power expansion, we went to the Iowa Utilities Board to voice our concerns," Heide said. " ... Once we raised the issue, MidAmerican understood what we were talking about." The agreement calls for MidAmerican to pay a little less than 3 cents for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated.

Crist said he didn't know if that rate would be sufficient to make smaller wind turbine projects financially feasible. Wind generation costs about $1,500 for each kilowatt installed, and those costs have risen because of higher construction costs and the demand for wind turbines, said Ed Woolsey of Green Prairie Energy, a private energy consultant. Woolsey said the rate MidAmerican will pay is "marginal, economically," if combined with federal and state tax credits. The Legislature's action Wednesday renews a state tax credit of 1.5 cents for each kilowatt-hour generated. That will help make small-scale wind turbine projects more financially viable, said Woolsey, who lobbied for the measure on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The tax credit measure is a continuation of a similar program that had its funds quickly exhausted last year, Woolsey said. The tax credit money approved Wednesday will be taken up by applications already filed this year.

A federal tax credit program that pays 1.9 cents for each kilowatt-hour generated also will help provide economic incentives for small-scale projects, Woolsey said. The agreement between MidAmerican and the Farmers Union "is a step in the right direction," Woolsey said. "But more needs to be done" to promote small-scale projects. Developing energy production in the countryside is the key to Iowa's rural economic development, Woolsey said. "There's no doubt that the wind blowing over Iowa farmland is going to be there long after all the oil and gas in the world runs out," he said.
MidAmerican Energy Co.
Edited by Trevor Sievert, Online Editorial Journalist
wind energy, wind farm, renewable energy, wind power, wind turbine, rotorblade, offshore, onshore

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