Iowa Ranks Second in the Nation in Wind Energy

A new study by the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Iowa City, finds that energy derived from wind accounts for up to 20 percent of Iowa's total electricity production, and is helping to keep the state's power costs among the lowest in the nation.

From the Center for Rural Affairs:

Authors of the study said it debunks arguments that alternative energy and other measures to combat climate change are too expensive. The study was conducted by the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Iowa City.

"Those people who tell us we can't do anything about global climate change because it will be too expensive are wrong, Iowa is proving it wrong," said David Osterberg, an Iowa Policy Project researcher and one of the authors of the study.

The study found that wind produced 3,670 megawatts of electricity in the state. If that power were used solely within the state it would produce enough electricity to power 940,000 homes roughly three-quarters of the state's homes.

The study noted that MidAmerican Energy is one of the most aggressive utility companies in the nation on wind energy, securing approval in December to install another 1,001 megawatts of production.

Iowa continues to rank second to Texas in wind production in the United States, the study found.

The authors pointed to research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showing that roughly three-quarters of Iowa has high enough wind at 80 meters above the ground to produce wind energy.

"Thus, even as Iowa is leading the way in harnessing wind energy, there is significant room to increase our use of the wind's renewable power," the study said.

"America need not fear taking strong steps to address climate change, new estimates of Iowa wind production and production potential show this," said Teresa Galluzzo, another author of the study.

Coal-fired plants produce about 75 percent of the state's electricity, and there is one nuclear plant in the state.

In examining electricity costs, the study found that Iowans paid about 6 cents per kilowatt hour in 1998. That climbed to 7 cents per kilowatt hour by 2008. Over the same time period, national average electricity costs went from 7 cents per kilowatt hour to nearly 10 cents.

"Amidst Iowa's massive expansion of wind power, our average electricity prices have remained below the national average and in fact have not increased as quickly as the national average price in the last four years," the study said.

The study said MidAmerican is the national leader in wind generation by rate-regulated utilities, with 1,393 megawatts either in operation or under construction. That's in addition to the 1,001 megawatts of capacity approved in December. The study said Iowa is the seventh windiest state in the nation.

The MidAmerican Energy Company is the largest utility in Iowa providing service to more than 723,000 electric customers and more than 702,000 natural gas customers in a 10,600 square-mile area from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois. The largest communities served by MidAmerican are Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Waterloo, Iowa City and Council Bluffs, Iowa; the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois; and Sioux Falls, S.D. As year end 2009, MidAmerican was capable of generating nearly 7,200 megawatts: approximately 50 percent fueled by coal; 21 percent natural gas and oil; 10 percent nuclear; 19 percent wind, hydroelectric and biomass; and less than 1 percent by other nonrenewable sources.

While wind energy sector has been growing rapidly in the United States - it grew by 39 percent in 2009 - wind still accounts for less than 5 percent of overall US energy production. What's remarkable about the Iowa report is that Iowa is quietly achieving European levels of alternative energy production. Denmark, one of the world leader's in wind energy, derives 25 percent of its energy needs from wind. 

Tags: US Energy Issues, Iowa, alternative energy (all tags)



Consider the source

I wasn't able to get a look at the report itself from the links, so I found the Iowa Policy Institute online. Its mission statement refers to their work being grounded in a belief in God, free enterprise and personal responsibility. Fair enough. So I looked at their publications available on the site, which do not include the energy study which is the subject of Charles' post. They oppose the health care bill (in an article in September 2009 that cites a CBO estimate of a $240 billion increase in debt, rather than the later reduction in debt the CBO concluded for the bill that passed the Senate.). But the piece goes much further in opposing a government role in health care. Their piece on climate change and the British email controversy manages to avoid taking any position on whether man-made climate change exists while subtly reinforcing the idea that there must be a lot of scientific hanky-panky going on. The institute strongly supports Iowa's "right to work" statute, which bans unions from requiring membership as a condition of employment in a union shop. So the study, which in summary seems to be lauding MidAmerican Energy, may deserve closer scrutiny.


Here a couple of questions to ask about the contents of the study. What does their 3670 megawatt figure represent? Wind is intermittent. It is great if the wind generation supplies almost 4000 megawatts of power throughout winter, not so great if it supplies that much power 12 per cent of the time. The second, related question: What about storage? Electrical energy can only be stored at great expense, which is one reason why sources that can be precisely turned on and off, such as fossil fuel, nuclear and hydro, predominate.

More wind energy production in general is a good thing, but the constancy of the supply and the ability to control it are still huge hurdles to overcome.

by anoregonreader 2010-03-06 02:00PM | 0 recs
RE: Consider the source

You are confusing the Iowa Policy Project, which is great and which Charles cites, with the Republican front group Iowa Progress Project.

Here is the link for the Iowa Policy Project:

by desmoinesdem 2010-03-06 04:51PM | 0 recs
good post

For those worried about whether clean, renewable energy can meet baseload needs, it's also important to remember that power plants have excess capacity in some parts of the Midwest where manufacturing and other industries have declined. Knowledgeable people tell me that it is far more cost-effective to transport electricity to Iowa from power plants in, say, Wisconsin and Michigan, than it would be to construct new coal-fired or nuclear power plants in Iowa.

Energy efficiency measures are the most cost-effective way to meet baseload needs, and wind power is becoming very competitive too.

Surprisingly, Iowa's not bad for solar power either, I have been told. We should be doing more to get solar panels on our roofs.

by desmoinesdem 2010-03-06 04:55PM | 0 recs

I was surprised to learn that there's a nuclear power plant in Iowa. So I looked into it. Iowa ranks last in nuclear capacity among the 31 states that have nuclear power plants and 30th in nuclear generation. The reactor in Palo outside Cedar Rapids was built in the early 1970s and came on-line in 1975. It has a 692 MX capacity and serves 600,000 customers.

I think it fairly clear that the most pressing need is to avoid building not a single coal-fired plants. They are merchants of death.


by Charles Lemos 2010-03-06 07:25PM | 0 recs
RE: thanks

There is a bill pending in the Iowa legislature to let MidAmerican spend a bunch of money studying the feasibility of a new nuclear power plant in Iowa. Of course the cost of that study will be passed onto MidAmerican's ratepayers. Nuclear energy simply is not cost-effective compared to other ways of meeting our baseload needs. Also, I have read that the process of enriching uranium for use in nuclear power plants generates a huge amount of greenhouse gases.

Two proposed coal-fired power plant projects were abandoned in Iowa last year (Waterloo and Marshalltown). Sadly, most of our Democratic and Republican politicians were big advocates of the plants, but a combination of an unfavorable ratemaking ruling from the Iowa Utilities Board and changing market conditions caused investors to pull out. Hundreds of thousands of Iowans who live near or downwind from Marshalltown and Waterloo won't have to worry about the adverse health effects from those plants.

by desmoinesdem 2010-03-06 08:53PM | 0 recs
RE: thanks

Nuclear energy simply is not cost-effective compared to other ways of meeting our baseload needs.

This is debateable.

Nuclear power still has the lowest operating cost compared to coal, gas, and oil. Nuclear power suffers from large capital cost investments. When capital costs are included, nuclear generation is about 10% more costly than coal in the United States, on average.

The answer gets more complex, but no, it is incorrect to assert that nuclear power is not cost-effective compared to other traditional energy sources. The levelized energy cost for nuclear forms a range, with wind power falling somewhere in the middle of that range.

Still, there is more than enough wind power in the midwest to power the entire United States. I think that if it is cost-effective, it will happen.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-03-06 11:35PM | 0 recs
Still waiting on Cape Wind here in MA

Hopefully a decision will come soon...

by NoFortunateSon 2010-03-06 06:00PM | 0 recs


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