Thursday, January 27, 2005

MidAmerica Energy Plans 50 More Turbines

Iowa gets wind of additional electricity
MidAmerican Energy plans 50 more turbines
MidAmerican Energy wants to make one of the nation's largest wind energy projects even bigger.The utility plans to add 50 turbines to its Iowa wind farm. The total project would have 257 turbines that could power up to 100,000 homes, according to a request filed with the Iowa Utilities Board on Wednesday.MidAmerican is asking to add more turbines because it has the capacity to do it and the extra generation helps meet Gov. Tom Vilsack's renewable energy goals, said Tom Budler, wind project manager.
"It's a good fit in our generation portfolio, and we think it's the right thing to do," Budler said.The new turbines will cost $63 million, Budler said. But the addition will not affect customer power rates, which will remain the same through 2010 under MidAmerican's rate agreement with the utilities board.MidAmerican's wind project is at two sites. The northwest Iowa site opened Dec. 31. The north-central Iowa site is scheduled to be completed by the end of September.
The proposed new generation would add 15 turbines to the northwest Iowa site and 35 to the north-central Iowa site, for 50 megawatts. That additional generation would be completed by the end of the year, Budler said.Emmet O'Hanlon , energy associate for the Iowa Public Interest Research Group, called the proposed turbines "good news." But he noted that the additional generation is small compared with the capacity of the new coal-fired power plant MidAmerican is building in Council Bluffs.
"Fifty megawatts is great, but it's a drop in the bucket," he said.The Des Moines-based nonprofit group supports the adoption of a 20 percent renewable energy standard, which O'Hanlon said would spur utilities to pursue renewable energy instead of new coal, natural gas or nuclear generation.Iowa law requires utilities to get 2 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Vilsack has a goal of 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy in Iowa by 2010. When MidAmerican's wind project is complete, the utility estimates that slightly more than 9 percent of its generation will come from renewable sources.
If the utilities board approves the proposal, the entire MidAmerican project will have the capacity to generate 360.5 megawatts, which would make it the largest wind project in the United States.The American Wind Energy Association, however, considers MidAmerican's project two separate wind farms because of the different sites, spokeswoman Kathy Belyeu said.MidAmerican began construction on the turbines in October, shortly after President Bush signed legislation renewing a tax credit for renewable energy gen- eration.
Iowa ranks 10th among states in wind energy potential, according to the wind association. But by the end of last year, Iowa ranked as high as third among states in wind energy production. Bringing the northwest Iowa site into operation on Dec. 31 was enough to push Iowa just ahead of Minnesota, Belyeu said.Four-hundred megawatts of new wind energy generation was brought online in 2004, according to the wind association. The "production tax credit," which supports MidAmerican's wind project and others across the nation, will expire at the end of the year.
Wind projects have been slowed because of industry uncertainty about the credit from year to year, Belyeu said. Turbine construction will slow again if the tax credit is not renewed for two years or more."It's a matter of making sure the momentum of a big year isn't lost," Belyeu said.