(Photo by archerwl via Creative Commons)

To meet EPA carbon rules, Iowa has wind energy to spare

With one of the richest wind resources in the U.S., Iowa is well positioned to breeze past not only its own Clean Power Plan carbon-reduction requirements, but also help with those of a half-dozen neighboring states as well.

Tom Wind, one of the authors of a just-published study, says Iowa can produce wind energy so much more cheaply than its eastern and southern neighbors that it’s almost certain to be tapped to bring other states into compliance.

Wind, an energy consultant, said that he and his research partner, Dan Turner, a program analyst for Windustry, aren’t the first to reach this conclusion. The federal Department of Energy in 2015 updated its 2008 Wind Vision study, and found it would be feasible, both technically and economically, for Iowa to add about 21,000 megawatts of wind between now and 2030, bringing the state’s total wind infrastructure to 27,000 megawatts.

“That’s far more than Iowa needs itself,” Wind said. He said he’s seen at least three other studies demonstrating that Iowa is well-positioned to export wind energy.

“We’re connecting the dots from all of those other studies. It’s a no-brainer,” said Wind, whose research was financed by the Energy Foundation.

Forecasting energy economics is tricky because of fluctuating costs of wind and natural gas, changing environmental regulations, and whether or not the Production Tax Credit will be in effect, according to Wind. As a consequence, he said, “people are hesitant to stick their necks out.” But looking at the studies done to date, he said, “They all say the same thing: that this is feasible.”

As of the end of 2014, Iowa had developed 5,688 megawatts of wind capacity, enough to provide about 28 percent of the electricity used in Iowa. However, that’s only about 1 percent of the state’s overall potential of 570,000 megawatts.

Wind also notes that wind energy in Iowa is cheap – much cheaper than in Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana, for example.

The cost of installing a wind turbine is pretty much a constant, he said. What varies is the amount of power a given turbine can produce based on wind speeds.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated how much power could be generated yearly based on the wind that typically blows in each state, and it calculated the following (in terms of gigawatt hours):

• Ohio: 150,000
• Wisconsin: 300,000
• Indiana: 440,000
• Illinois: 760,000
• Missouri: 800,000
• Iowa: 2,000,000

States to the east and south can generate some additional wind power, and undoubtedly will as part of their strategy for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, Wind said.

“There are usually sweet spots in every state where there are good wind resources and available transmission,” he said. “Chances are they’ll use all their best spots first.”

Then, he said, the search for the cheapest wind energy will bring them to Iowa.

Some of them are already buying Iowa’s wind energy. Alliant Energy, which serves parts of both Iowa and Wisconsin, ships some wind energy from Iowa to Wisconsin, he said.

If Iowa is to sell more wind energy to states to the east and south – its northern and western neighbors have plenty of wind themselves – it will have to invest in more transmission capacity, Wind said. There’s no real surplus of capacity in the transmission system at present.

Now pending before the Iowa Utilities Board is a proposal to build a major transmission line – the Rock Island Clean Line — that would carry wind power from northwestern Iowa into Illinois.

“What does that tell you?” Wind asked. “That tells you that wind energy is a whole lot cheaper in northwestern Iowa than in Illinois. It looks like it’s about $2 billion cheaper. That’s the cost of that line.”

4 thoughts on “To meet EPA carbon rules, Iowa has wind energy to spare

  1. If you fight wind energy industry special treatment to protect the view, peace and quiet and non-industrial atmosphere surrounding your rural homestead, piping wind electricity from Iowa to Illinois (and beyond) probably sounds like a good idea. But if you fight wind energy special treatment to protect your state and nation from higher electricity rates, the export of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of US jobs in electricity-intensive industries (steel, aluminum, plastics and other chemicals for instance), then you probably already know that wind electricity is prohibitively expensive given its near-zero ability to offer high-confidence-level capacity support to the grid system.

    And if you fight the wind energy industry because of their heavy reliance on taxpayer dollars they didn’t earn (more than half of their equivalent pre-tax gross revenue from sources other than selling electricity at wholesale market clearing prices) and simply hate that kind of crony capitalism that some officials in both political parties are guilty of, then again, shipping wind electricity from Iowa or anywhere to anywhere else sounds like a bad idea to you.

    Finally, if you support wind electricity, then you are either uneducated about the above well documented facts, or have a desire to harm your own nation’s and state’s economy. Which of these four categories best defines your position?

  2. The big problem here is that the Rock Island Clean Line owns not one mile of right-of-way. They would like to use the power of eminent domain to take over 95% of the land they need in Illinois and Iowa by force because landowners are refusing to sign voluntary easements. They would like to have a 145′-200′ corridor for over 500 miles for a brand new right-of-way, one THEY own and THEY control.
    There is no one going without electricity for lack of this line and Iowa already leads in wind energy production.
    RICL is a private, for-profit line that will not supply any Iowan with power. They should not have use of eminent domain as they have requested.
    RICL is giving the entire wind industry a black eye.

  3. Another misleading article about the amount of energy available from wind farms. Big wind knows that only about 30% of stated capacity is actually available to end users. To say that they could provide 28% of Iowas power is not misleading its a lie!
    I’ve been to conferences in Iowa for electric power and wind is a destabilizing source for power generation. The grid needs synchronized power from reliable sources.
    The only reason Big Wind is building wind farms in Iowa is the Production Tax Credit -see Warren Buffets comments.

  4. I take this “technical” article with a large grain of salt. Its authors are funded by the Energy Foundation, an organization which is very heavy on Public Engagement, managed by political scientists but paper thin on technical expertise. Their purpose is to promote green energy, as this article does. It presents “sweet numbers”, which as other comments note, ignore real world numbers.

    I judge wind gen will carve out a market niche, in Iowa, but it will never supply based loaded energy to the national grids in large measure at high capacity factors. I suspect that it may vanish with the termination of massive federal subsidies. Until private investors lay down trillions of their own funds, I do not buy this happy green argument.

    I engineered a score of nukes, two score fossil fueled power plants, and assessed advanced technologies for decades.