Next to natural gas, wind energy has grown to be the largest source of new electrical capacity in the nation. A national report released this month by the American Wind Energy Association says total U.S. wind power capacity is now over 16,800 megawatts – enough to serve the equivalent of 4-point 5 million average households.
For its part in producing electricity from wind generation, Iowa ranks fourth nationally in the total wind power installed – with the potential to obtain more than 5 percent of its electricity from wind. That's a far cry from less than a decade ago.
More than 300 wind turbines were first "planted" across parts of northern Iowa in 1999. Today more than 11-hundred turbines dot the landscape. Most of the large wind "farms" are owned by MidAmerican, Alliant, and FPL energy companies. Eleven of Iowa's 136 municipal electric utilities own part, or all, of their own wind generation. Several schools also generate wind power.
With a total of 1,273 megawatts of wind power installed, Iowa has the potential to generate electricity from wind to serve up to 380,000 average Midwest homes.While there may be strong winds overhead, becoming the 4th largest producer in wind generation is no accident. Governor
Chet Culver, 2008 Condition of the State Address: "We must require 25% of all energy produced in Iowa be from a renewable source by 2025."
To encourage such growth, Governor Culver, his predecessors and other in the state offered various state tax incentives and low interest loans to spur development.And on the federal level, there is also Wind Energy Tax credit that if extended the American Wind Energy Association claims will contribute to the expansion nationally of wind energy projects by 30 percent in 2008. With expansion, comes the need for a trained workforce.
Since 2004, Iowa Lakes Community College has been one of several schools across the country turning out qualified graduates for the wind energy workforce. When the program was started four years ago on the Estherville campus, there were 15 students in a few classrooms. In late 2007, a new building opened to house 4 instructors teaching 66 students the essentials of locating, constructing, and maintaining wind turbines.
Part of the curriculum includes a mandatory internship during the summer between the first and second years of the program.
Mike Schmidt is both a curriculum coordinator and instructor with the Wind Energy and Turbine Technology program at Iowa Lakes.
Mike Schmidt, Iowa Lakes Community College: "I tell the students early on that this, you really need to make a commitment to be successful in this program or any other technical program. If you do make that commitment it's going to pay off in the long run."
The pay-off Schmidt says, has been a base-pay for alumni that has averaged around $25 per hour or roughly $50,000 per year when overtime work is factored-in.
Seeing value in the program, major producers of wind turbines have invested in Iowa Lakes program. Leading manufacturers like the Danish company Vestas and Netherlands-based Suzlon have provided guidance, equipment, and internships. With an educated workforce, five wind industry companies in the state, and government incentives to expand production … will Iowa develop more wind power than it can use? While the wind itself is free, it cannot be stored for a rainy day.
At least not yet. Three miles west of Dallas Center, 3,000 feet under this unassuming field, lies an aquifer with the geologic composition some think is conducive to storing compressed air. When the wind blows in off-peak times, electricity from the wind turbines will drive an air compressor to send air underground to a porous sandstone reservoir. The stored air would be released to drive generators that send electricity on the power grid.
Bob Haug, Executive Director of The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities which instigated the study for an Iowa Stored Energy Park, said the $228 million dollar project could help to grow the wind industry in Iowa.
Bob Haug, Executive Director, Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities: Utilities will be building wind turbines with or without the storage facility. This just makes the value of that wind generation more valuable. It raises the value of the wind energy. It is primarily the ability of storage to make the wind dispatchable."