Simply put, wind energy is good for Iowa. It’s because of the many benefits it brings not only to MidAmerican Energy’s customers, but to Iowa’s communities and the state as a whole that we’ve been investing in this form of renewable energy since 2004. It is the foundation of our 100% Renewable Energy Vision, the reason MidAmerican’s rates are among the lowest in the country, the motivation for global job-creating companies to locate here and the stabilizing factor for many Iowa landowners and counties.
Federal and state lawmakers have long prioritized the development of wind energy, mainly through support of the Production Tax Credit program. Originally authored in part by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the PTC program provides a tax credit during the first 10 years of electricity generation from a wind turbine. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), PTCs are credited with “spurring investment and the establishment of a U.S. manufacturing base that helped drive U.S. wind power costs down by 70% over the last decade.”
PTCs have helped MidAmerican add over 7,000 megawatts of clean, renewable energy at no cost to our customers, keeping rates affordable and 31% below the national average (Source: Edison Electric Institute). The program has been critical to the transition of MidAmerican’s energy generation fleet to include the largest wind generating capacity of any regulated utility in the country. Our wind fleet takes advantage of Iowa's strong wind resource to generate local, sustainable, emission-free energy. Instead of paying out-of-state entities for fuel, our wind farms effectively pay dividends to in-state landowners and the communities that host them, strengthening local economies while protecting customers from the risk of increasing fuel prices.
By the end of 2020, MidAmerican will have invested $13 billion to construct 36 wind projects and more than 3,300 turbines spread across 32 of Iowa’s counties. MidAmerican's wind farms are only possible because of landowner partners who sign voluntary easements and communities that welcome the positive economic impact they provide.
Turbines benefit rural Iowa
While the wind farms are spread across thousands of acres of land, the land impacted by each wind turbine and access road is very small — it’s estimated that only half an acre per turbine is converted from agricultural use to renewable energy generation. For a minimal impact to land use, wind turbines and their associated facilities provide maximum value and a consistent source of additional revenue that can be much needed in times of depressed commodity prices. In addition, the large agricultural area between turbines allows the land to still be farmed efficiently. Agriculture and wind generation complement each other well.
Participating landowners aren’t the only Iowans pleased with wind energy. Local communities that are home to wind farms benefit from the millions in local property taxes paid and the jobs created. AWEA estimates that existing projects in the state currently generate $61 million in property tax payments in addition to the $69 million paid to landowners each year. These tax dollars support the upkeep and improvements to local roads, schools, and first responder and emergency management services.
Further, the renewable energy industry accounts for nearly 10,000 jobs in Iowa. From the thousands of construction jobs it takes to build wind farms to the permanent jobs that exist to operate and maintain them for decades, MidAmerican continues to be proud to be part of such an important driver for Iowa’s economy. But that’s not all.
Because of Iowa’s recognition as a national leader in renewable energy, global businesses flock to the state to leverage the reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly energy that their customers demand. That creates new and ongoing investment and jobs beyond those directly contributed to the wind industry.
Iowa farmers are known for their strong legacy of stewardship — taking care of the natural resources to reap the rewards they offer in return. Wind energy is no different. In 2019, harnessing the wind allowed Iowa to generate more electricity from renewable resources than from coal-fired plants for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal generated 35% of the state's net electricity, down from 59% five years earlier. During the same period, wind power grew from 29% of the state's net generation to 42% in 2019, which is the highest share of any other state.
Nearly two decades of wind energy investment has demonstrated that renewable energy is a cash crop for Iowa — creating jobs, supporting economic growth, keeping electric rates low and helping Iowa’s communities grow. MidAmerican is proud to be part of showcasing what the future of energy looks like.
Fehr is vice president of resource development for MidAmerican Energy.