The latest quarterly report for new wind energy installations shows no new projects in Iowa since Alliant Energy’s Whispering Willow wind farm opened in Franklin County late last year, and the lowest total of new installations nationally since 2007.
Iowa has the nation’s second-largest cache of wind turbine electricity generation with 3,670 megawatts of capacity. Only Texas is larger, with 9,727 megawatts (a megawatt can power between 300 and 500 homes).
But figures from the American Wind Energy Association released Friday show a dramatic drop in new projects during 2010. In 2009 about 10,000 megwatts of new capacity came on line nationally and another 4,000 megawatts were finished in the first quarter of 2010.
But since then just 500 new megwatts of wind energy have been completed in the U.S., none in Iowa, where political and business leaders have promoted policies that would export Iowa’s surplus wind energy to other states in a manner similar to the way oil and gas producing states in the southwest have long exported their energy production elsewhere.
According to the AWEA, “factors include lack of long-term U.S. energy policies, such as a Renewable Electricity Standard, and resulting lack of certainty for business, which has the country’s utilities failing to move forward with wind build-out plans.”
“We’re increasing our dependence on fossil fuels, impacting our national security, instead of diversifying our portfolio to include more renewables,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the national trade association of over 2,500 companies.
About 2,000 Iowans work in wind turbine construction facilities in Fort Madison, Cedar Rapids, West Branch and Newton.
Two other factors have emerged this year to potentially hobble wind energy.
One is the sharp decrease in the price of natural gas, which two years ago sold for an average of $10 per thousand cubic feet but for most of this year has sold for $4 or less per thousand cubic feet or less due to a 5 percent increase in domestic production coming from new shale fields in Texas and Louisiana.
Most ominously for Iowa’s hopes of emerging as a wind-generated electricity provider for the eastern U.S., major new gas discoveries under Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York raise the possibility of more cheaper and cleaner fossil fuels for the big urban markets in the eastern U.S. than were previously believed.
Utilities have swung their focus to natural gas as a generator fuel because while it is a fossil fuel, it still burns cleaner than coal. And unlike wind energy, it can be stored and transported across state lines.
The transmission issue (to be reported in The Register’s business section on Sunday) has proved to be vexing for the industry because of the costs, estimated to be as high as $25 billion to move wind-generated electricity from Iowa and the Upper Midwest to population centers east of the Mississippi River.
While utilities traditionally have laid the costs for new transmission and generation on their local customers within a single state overseen by that state’s utility regulators, a multistate transmission line would need unprecedented cooperation and coordination between a dozen or more states and several different transmission reliability zones.
During 2010 states along the Atlantic seaboard have begun to embrace plans for wind farms off their coasts in the Atlantic Ocean. Plans have been approved for a big wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts and earlier this month internet search engine Google said it would partner with Wall Street investors to build an offshore wind farm between New York and Virginia.
While those plans are still vague and face the challenge of being at least 50 percent more expensive than the land-based wind in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest, eastern political figures, utility regulators and utilities successfully lobbied congress last summer against legislation that would have set up the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as a national arbitor for interstate electricity transmission.
The AWEA quarterly report shows the five largest wind-generating states are Texas, 9.727 megawatts; Iowa, 3,670 megawatts; California, 2,739 megawatts; Oregon, 2,095 megawatts and Washington, 1,964 megawatts.
Oregon has been the largest developer of new projects this year, with 175 megawtts. Other top new wind project producers are Indiana, 111 megawatts; Washington, 50 megawatts; Minnesota, 21 megawatts and Texas, 20 megawatts.
Iowa is not listed among states with new projects completed or under construction this year. MidAmerican Energy of Des Moines last year won state regulatory approval for 1,000 megawatts of new wind generation to add to the 1,350 megawatts it already operates, but has yet to begin work on new turbine construction.
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