Mid-winter winds can blow across parts of Iowa at an average speed of about 18 miles per hour. That’s among the highest in the country. Across the state, there’s enough wind to meet all of Iowa’s electricity demand – 44 times over.
Because of this abundance – and because of policies like the federal wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) – Iowa’s wind industry is among the tops in the nation, attracting almost $10 billion in capital investment, employing more than 3,000 people, and generating more than a quarter of the state’s electricity.
In the fourth quarter of 2013, the state’s already robust wind industry got a major boost when Iowa’s largest utility, MidAmerican Energy, placed an order with Siemens Energy to manufacture turbines for five wind farms scattered across the state.
Expected to create or support more than 800 manufacturing jobs in Iowa and Kansas, it’s the largest onshore wind turbine order in history. With the announcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan on June 2, more projects like these could attract more jobs to the state.
Derrick Clay works at the Siemens wind turbine blade factory in Fort Madison, Iowa. He said this type of economic activity is vital to the region where he lives.
“I think it’s real big for the whole community in southeastern Iowa in general as far as jobs and people feeding their families,” Clay said.
The Fort Madison plant is located in Lee County, which in 2011 had the highest unemployment rate in Iowa. Thanks in part to the MidAmerican Energy order, unemployment in Lee County has dropped 40 percent, to 6.2 percent, a statistic cited by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in his January 2014 Condition of the State Address.
The MidAmerican Energy order includes almost 450 turbines. When up and running by the end of 2015, they’ll generate enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes.
The turbines’ nacelles and hubs will be manufactured at a Siemens plant in Hutchinson, Kansas, while about 1,300 slender white blades will be produced in Fort Madison. If all the blades ordered were laid end-to-end, they would stretch 45 miles – further than the distance between MidAmerican Energy’s Des Moines headquarters and Ames.Gov. Branstad said the $1.9 billion MidAmerican Energy announcement is the biggest economic development project in Iowa history.
“It is great to have an Iowa-based energy company placing the world’s largest onshore order for wind turbines in a facility that has produced more than 9,000 blades since the plant began operations in 2007,” Gov. Branstad said in a statement. “Together, these companies continue to greatly benefit Iowa’s economy and demonstrate the state’s commitment to renewable energy.”
The mid-December 2013 timing of the announcement was no coincidence. With the federal wind energy PTC scheduled to expire at the end of the year, companies like MidAmerican Energy and Siemens were incentivized to reach certain project development thresholds before the Dec. 31 expiration of the PTC.
Business leaders in Iowa and beyond are imploring Congress to act immediately to extend clean energy and energy efficiency tax policies like the PTC. If not, clean energy development – and future record-breaking economic development projects like MidAmerican Energy’s – could become scarce.
“Extending the production tax credit is critical to giving the wind industry the certainty needed to continue to make investments,” said Mark Albenze, CEO of Siemens Energy Wind Power Americas. “These projects demonstrate that wind power is a viable and sustainable part of the U.S. energy mix. This industry has arrived. Let’s ensure it will thrive.”
— Environmental Entrepreneurs