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Alliant Energy plans wind farm construction spree

Alliant Energy Corp. says it plans to build what could amount to several wind farms in Iowa and Wisconsin over the next four years.

But a sharp decline in the value of one of Alliant’s existing Iowa wind farms led to a drop in the Madison utility company’s profits in the third quarter, even though revenues were up from last year.

Alliant reported net income of $128.4 million, or 57 cents a share, on revenue of $924.6 million for the three months that ended Sept. 30 compared with net income of $179.9 million, or 79 cents a share, on revenue of $898.9 million for the 2015 third quarter.

A key element of the earnings drop is a reassessment of the value of the 60-turbine Franklin County wind farm, in north-central Iowa that started operating in 2012. Alliant said it expects to switch ownership from the corporation to its Iowa utility subsidiary, Interstate Power & Light.

An analysis showed the value of the wind farm has dropped $86 million – mainly because the cost of wind generation has fallen substantially – and it is now worth an estimated $33 million. As a result, Alliant took an $86 million charge in the third quarter and that non-cash charge put a dent in the company’s earnings for the quarter.

Meanwhile, Alliant plans $6.6 billion worth of construction from 2016 through 2020, including $1.25 billion in new renewable energy. Much of that will involve building more wind farms, making Alliant one of the leaders in wind power, CEO Patricia Kampling told a conference call with analysts Friday.

In July, the company announced it will build up to 500 megawatts of additional wind generation in Iowa, enough to power 215,000 homes, by 2020.

Locations are still being finalized, but one is expected to be in Franklin County near existing wind farms.

On Friday, Kampling told analysts Alliant is “exploring options” for IPL and Alliant’s Wisconsin subsidiary, Wisconsin Power & Light, to own and operate another 400 megawatts of wind power on top of the 500 megawatts, possibly split evenly between the two subsidiaries.

Kampling also said the company plans major updates in its electric and natural gas distribution systems.

She said Alliant’s 10-year plan involves accelerating construction of renewable energy over the next few years to take advantage of federal tax credits. She said even more renewable and natural gas-fueled generation will be needed after 2020.

Alliant stock closed Friday at $36.84, down 25 cents a share from the day before.