Warren Buffett has said that building wind turbines makes no sense without the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC). I wanted to know why industrial wind is being pushed in Iowa when it makes no sense, so I called MidAmerican Energy and asked to speak with Bill Fehrman.
They told me he was their president; I could speak with someone in their public relations department instead. I left my name and told them I was a board member of the Coalition for Rural Property Rights. Bill called me the next day so I asked him and he told me he would come and “pencil it out” for me.
After listening to his explanation, I think he needs to be called upon to “pencil it out” for all of Iowa, the people he is walking over to get his 2,000 new megawatts of turbines built, and the Iowans who will someday pay the cost of this folly. In MidAmerican’s bid to the Iowa Utilities Board for rate making on the company’s wind turbine expansion project known as Wind XI, the company clearly states over and over how their request must be approved immediately to take full advantage of the PTC: the PTC that was almost cut out from under them in the recent tax reform bill that was signed into law.
Wind energy production tax credit is extended
During the tax bill debate in Congress, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said, “For the next 10 years, extending the tax credit one year at a time could cost $60 billion or more, based on the most recent data from the Joint Committee on Taxation, about enough to pay for the $63 billion Congress spent in the recently passed budget agreement.” As part of the new tax law, the PTC is extended for 10 years.
When the 10-year PTC is done, MidAmerican gets a guaranteed return percentage no matter the cost. I have spoken with the rural electric co-ops in the Midwest. They will not be building any more wind turbines because they cannot afford them. The co-ops’ tax-exempt status makes them ineligible to use the Production Tax Credits.
Other reasons why wind power doesn’t make sense
There are additional reasons why building wind turbines and erecting them across the countryside to generate electricity doesn’t make sense. Even in Iowa the wind doesn’t blow all the time. We have enough traditional electricity generation to power us for the two-thirds of the time when wind cannot supply our demand. When the wind is blowing, the traditional electricity generation plants still all have payroll, maintenance and mortgage costs.
The extra transmission lines that must be built mean that land is taken from our private property by threat of eminent domain. The Rock Island Clean Line was asking to erect 500 miles of transmission lines. With roughly six 200-foot-tall towers per mile, that would have been 3,000 transmission towers to carry the electricity generated by 1,500 to 2,000 wind turbines. All the wind industry gives us is more power plants and more transmission lines to pay for. How could that be cheaper?
When contacting the Iowa Utilities Board about any of these Wind XI projects, they’ll tell you that the company did “not request or receive a waiver from the IUB for any wind project.” MidAmerican is skirting the IUB by using a 20-year-old law from back when turbines were comparatively tiny. I think MidAmerican doesn’t want the people to have a voice, the people who will have to live and work near or among the turbines. The company doesn’t want to have a proper hearing where Iowans could defend their homes, their properties.
Lawsuit filed against project in northwest Iowa
Residents of Palo Alto County who want a voice have filed a lawsuit against Invenergy/ MidAmerican on this point of law. Palo Alto County’s planning and zoning board asked for half-mile setbacks from homes because of the mountains of information available that speak to the many detriments of industrial wind.
Invenergy/MidAmerican sent the Palo Alto County board of supervisors a letter saying the half-mile setbacks would not work for them and detailed exactly how our industrial wind ordinance should read. Their land agents lied to people and even sent letters urging them to not read, only to sign, the overreaching, one-sided contracts. The lawsuit is being backed by Iowa’s office of the Consumer Advocate.
Wind energy companies cite reduced pollution
The reason the industrial wind fiasco is being pushed forward is because people believe it will avoid carbon dioxide emissions. Power plants burning coal to generate electricity put CO₂ into the atmosphere. The American Wind Energy Association boasted in 2016 that wind turbines avoided putting 159 million metric tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere. That sounds like a lot until you compare it to the 35 to 40 billion metric tons of CO₂ attributed to mankind every year. The 159 million metric tons pencils out to far less than 1% of the total amount of CO₂ produced.
Even if the industry doubled its wind power electricity generation capacity they would not avoid over 1% of the CO₂, by their own optimistic numbers. The $60 billion cost to U.S. taxpayers by extending the wind energy production tax credit, or PTC, over the next 10 years is a lot of money. I think we can find better ways to spend that money than by ruining the rural U.S. on a pipe dream.
Swanson farms with her family near Ayrshire in northwest Iowa. She is a board member of the Coalition for Rural Property Rights, a board member of National Wind Watch and a member of the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance.
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