Iowa: Growing More Than Corn

Iowa is a leading U.S. state in wind power generation and electricity, with 5,177 megawatts (MW) of capacity (ahead of all states except Texas and California). Iowa produces 27.4% of all the electricity generated in the state from wind turbines, ranking it first in the nation. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 75% of Iowa is suitable for wind power development, with an estimated total wind resource of 570,000 MW. Iowa’s installed wind generators can produce enough power to provide electricity to more than 1 million average-size homes. And recently MidAmerican Energy Co. announced plans for a 1,050-MW, $1.9 billion project by the end of 2015. It’s the largest economic development investment in state history.

The development of wind power in Iowa began with the 1983 enactment of a state law that required investor-owned utilities in the state to buy a total of 105 MW of power from wind-generated electricity, one of the first renewable electricity portfolio standards. This provided assurance to those building wind power installations that there would be a market for the electricity they produced. Wind farms are most prevalent in the north and west portions of Iowa. Wind maps show the winds in these areas to be stronger on average, making them better suited for the development of wind energy. Wind maps show wind speeds are on average strongest from November through April, peaking in March. August is the month with the weakest average wind speeds.

In May 2010, a plan was announced to have 50% of the electricity generated in Iowa come from wind power. Of the wind-generated electricity, 40% would be used in state and 60% would be sold to out-of-state customers. However, according to the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, lack of transmission line capacity is beginning to restrict further growth of wind farms in the state.

But for now Iowa is realizing significant economic benefits from the wind industry. Fourteen companies involved in the wind energy industry have offices or manufacturing facilities in Iowa. Blades for wind turbines are manufactured in Newton by TPI Composites and in Fort Madison by Siemens. Turbines are manufactured in Cedar Rapids by Clipper Windpower and in West Branch by ACCIONA. Towers are also manufactured in Newton by Trinity Structural Towers. In addition to manufacturing, various companies support the development of wind power projects. The number of wind-related direct and indirect jobs in Iowa currently stands at almost 4,000. Iowa ranks second in the nation for employment related to the wind energy industry. Iowa landowners with wind turbines on their land receive an estimated $16 million dollars annually in lease payments.

For all of these reasons, wind power in Iowa is considered an American success story.

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