If you plan to attend this year's Iowa State Fair Aug. 9 to 19, you'll want to see the new Wind Energy Education Center. It's easy to find. Just look upward. A 133-foot-tall turbine operates in conjunction with this educational exhibit. It stands atop Expo Hill, east of the Agriculture Building, on the fairgrounds in Des Moines.
The turbine, the fair's tallest attraction, was built this summer courtesy of MidAmerican Energy Company, which has become the largest owner of wind energy turbines in the United States.
Iowa's wind farms are located in parts of the state that many Iowans who live outside those areas may rarely if ever see. That's why MidAmerican officials and the Iowa State Fair Board decided to build the turbine at the fairgrounds. The Iowa State Fair is a place where people can learn about new things—such as wind energy.
Helps Iowans learn about wind energy
"The State Fair is traditionally a place where Iowans have come to see and learn about something for the first time," says Allan Urlis, spokesman for MidAmerican. "Wind power is an important technology to the future of Iowa." A temporary education center will stand next to the turbine during the 2007 fair. A more permanent structure is planned in the future.
Since 2003, Iowa has become third in the nation in wind energy generation behind Texas and California.
The turbine at the fairgrounds is half the size of MidAmerican's 323 wind farm turbines now in operation in parts of northern and western Iowa. Nonetheless, the turbine will generate the equivalent of nearly one quarter of the fair's annual electricity needs, or roughly the amount of energy needed to power the entire fairgrounds, including the Midway rides—during the fair.
To supply 25% of fair's electricity
The project cost nearly $900,000 to build, $150,000 of which was paid for by more than 5,000 voluntary customer and employee donations to Mid-America's Renewable Advantage program. The program supports renewable energy related construction.
Erecting the wind turbine on the fairgrounds required a 40-foot-wide, 3½ foot deep base, which is composed of 137 cubic yards of concrete and 40,000 pounds of steel reinforcement. Each of the turbine's three blades is 64 feet long; its rotor weighs 53,000 pounds.
The blades begin to generate electricity at a minimum of 11 mph and operate at maximum capacity of 34 mph. Fairgoers standing below the turbine won't be able to feel any breeze when the turbine is rotating.
More wind energy farms for Iowa
Wind energy is increasing in Iowa. In late July, the Iowa Utilities Board approved six new wind farm locations. The farms are expected to add a total of 540 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2008. That will bring Iowa's total wind energy production to 1,000 megawatts, enough for 336,000 homes.
Projected sites are in the areas of Adair, Carroll, Charles City, Orient, Spencer and Walnut. The MidAmerican expansion in Iowa also includes adding turbines to a wind farm being developed near Pomeroy.
These latest announcements are moving the state's wind energy timetable ahead of schedule. In 2003 Tom Vilsack, then governor of Iowa, set a goal for Iowa utilities, businesses and regulatory officials to increase Iowa's wind energy total to more than 1,000 megawatts by 2010. Now, Gov. Chet Culver has followed Vilsack's initiative by raising the wind energy challenge for Iowa to add an additional 1,000 megawatts by 2015.