When you imagine a future for wind energy nationwide, look no further than my home state of Iowa as a shining example of what could be.
Iowa has a goal – and a plan to achieve it – to be the first state in the nation to meet 40% of our electricity needs from wind power by 2020. And we are well on our way.
In December of last year, I oversaw the creation of the new Iowa Energy Plan. This plan assesses our state’s current and future energy supply and demand, examines existing energy policies and programs, and identifies emerging energy challenges and opportunities. The plan also synthesizes the existing state energy goals and strategies that are beneficial for the state and outlines new goals and strategies to position Iowa for the future.
This plan reaffirms the state’s commitment to reaching our 40% renewable goal. To reach that goal, it recommends the state continue to support an increase in both utility-scale and dispersed renewable energy generation – recommendations we are committed to fulfilling.
Thankfully, Iowa is home to electrical utilities that are equally committed to wind power. Last year, MidAmerican Energy Co., the state’s largest energy provider, announced plans to invest a combined $3.6 billion for 1,000 new wind turbines and 2,000 MW of additional wind capacity. The first phase of this project is slated to begin construction this month. When completed, this wind initiative will be a significant step toward the company’s vision of providing 100% renewable energy for its customers.
MidAmerican’s project is also the single-largest economic development investment in Iowa history. It has the potential to create $12.5 million per year in property tax payments, $18 million per year in payments to landowners, and $48 million per year in state and local expenditures. It is a shining example of the multitude of stakeholders who benefit from investment in wind energy.
Last year, Alliant Energy, our state’s second-largest energy utility, also announced an additional $1 billion investment to add 500 MW of wind capacity. Together, these investments put our state on pace to reach and surpass that 40% goal by 2020.
Today, even before these new projects begin construction, Iowa is leading the pack in wind power. Wind currently generates more than 35% of Iowa’s electricity – the largest share of any state. A January report, co-funded by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, says Iowa is the easiest state for companies to directly purchase renewable energy. Spinning wind turbines dot our rolling fields, each one generating clean energy and providing income for farmers, revenue for local governments and jobs for Iowa families.
Iowa’s central location, positive business climate and transportation infrastructure have made the state an attractive location for global turbine manufacturers. Today, almost the entire turbine lifecycle – from manufacturing, to assembly, to erection – is occurring within Iowa’s borders.
The people of Iowa have also been instrumental in the success of the industry. The entrepreneurism and ingenuity of our state’s small business owners have had an immeasurably positive effect on wind energy as a whole. As wind turbine manufacturing has scaled, Iowa companies have become pioneers. They have overcome obstacles and piloted solutions later put into practice globally.
An example of such a company is KPI Concepts in Burlington, located in southeastern Iowa on the Mississippi River. KPI Concepts manufactures wooden components for turbine blades. Its founder, Craig Upton, was manufacturing shelving for retail stores when, in 2008, an executive from Siemens contacted him and asked if he could also make blade components. Today, Upton manufactures components for both Siemens and TPI Composites, making use of machines that he designed.
Iowa’s public universities and their excellent engineering colleges have also embraced the state’s leadership in wind energy, undertaking academic research to further the industry and developing specialized programs to educate the next generation of wind energy engineers and policymakers. The state’s extensive network of community colleges has taken on the challenge of developing the industry’s on-the-ground workforce and has created specialized programs that are educating technicians who install, maintain and service modern wind turbines.
Wind attracts tech giants
The leadership in clean energy generation has also drawn large, socially minded companies from outside of the wind industry to Iowa. Google and Facebook were attracted to Iowa, in part, because of the state’s abundance of renewable energy and reliable electricity infrastructure, with both companies partnering with local utilities to directly purchase wind-generated power.
The state of Iowa is a leader in renewable energy today because of the commitment from stakeholders statewide. It was a journey that began in 1983, when Iowa passed the nation’s first renewable electricity standard, under the leadership of Gov. Terry Branstad.
At that time, the state was almost entirely dependent on coal for electricity. That first law required investor-owned utilities in Iowa to own or contract for a combined 105 MW of renewable generating capacity.
Today, the state’s utilities generate more than 6.2 GW of wind electricity – a figure that will continue to steadily grow. The businesses and residents also have some of the lowest energy costs in the country, which is an important factor in Iowa, where advanced manufacturing is our leading industry.
Wind power manufacturing, itself, supports 7,000 jobs in Iowa, and turbine operators provide millions of dollars annually in lease payments to farmers. This economic impact cannot be overlooked, which is why our administration has supported, and continues to support, our state-level wind energy incentives, as well as the federal government’s renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC). Particular credit goes to the work done by members of Congress from both political parties who voted to extend the PTC in December 2015, which has restored a necessary level of predictability to the market.
The reasons behind Iowa’s current leadership in wind generation extend beyond the fact that the wind blows strong and steady here. It started with forward-thinking policy, was augmented by the state’s business-friendly approach, and has succeeded because of an all-in, collective effort. The entire state is justifiably proud of where it is today, but it has not chilled its ambition. The state will continue to create an environment in which businesses in the wind industry and many others can succeed.
Kim Reynolds is lieutenant governor for the state of Iowa. To reach her, visit ltgovernor.iowa.gov.