Out-of-state folks are out of touch on Iowa wind energy
By Jon Kallen
I felt a civic duty to respond to a recent column from the Heartland Institute—an Illinois organization—that critiqued wind energy in Iowa, which ran in our local newspaper.
It might seem acceptable for two guys in a Chicago office to offer their "expertise" on Iowa wind energy, but here in Iowa, we know better. There were so many inaccuracies in the column that are counter to everything Iowans know about renewable energy, but I only have space to address a few here.
First, they inaccurately implied that wind energy is only valued by wind advocates and liberals. As a Republican, I can assure you that is simply not true.
Wind energy has complete bipartisan support in Iowa because it creates jobs, provides benefits to Iowans, and bolsters our rural communities. Many conservative leaders, like Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Grassley, support wind energy because the economic benefits are clear for Iowans.
I had the good fortune of working for MidAmerican Energy, a Berkshire Hathaway company, and can personally attest to the company's dedication to providing affordable and reliable energy to Iowa consumers. By investing in wind energy and diversifying its energy portfolio, MidAmerican boasts the ninth lowest power rates nationally, about 36 percent below the national average. Ironically, Iowa gets a little more than 36 percent of its energy from wind. Contrary to what the authors from Chicago said, a fleet of wind turbines in Iowa produces electricity almost every hour of the year, not 34 percent of the time.
Today, wind energy is the lowest cost source of new electricity generation. This is especially true in windy places like Iowa, where the levelized cost of wind is half that of the cheapest new coal plant, less than new gas, and much less than new nuclear. This comparison does not even include state or federal tax incentives for wind. However, those tax incentives are important and have helped put wind on a more level playing field with traditional sources of energy like coal, gas, and nuclear—which have received federal subsidies for decades.
Wind's costs have declined by more than 60 percent in the past seven years alone, and the technology gets better every year. By adding more wind in the coming years, Iowa consumers could save billions on electricity costs.
Wind has helped cut air emissions substantially in the electric power sector. The Iowa Department of National Resources publishes an annual report on Iowa's greenhouse gas emissions. The latest report clearly shows that electric sector emissions—carbon dioxide plus several other types—fell 20 percent between 2005 and 2015. Electric sector emissions in 2015 were also more than 30 percent below their 2010 peak.
Wind turbines generate electricity, so we expect them to reduce electrical sector emissions—and that is certainly the case. And these reductions happened during a period when Iowa's private sector GDP grew by nearly 45 percent and Iowa experienced a modest increase in population.
In addition, wind energy creates jobs and provides economic development opportunities. More than 8,000 people are employed in the wind industry in the state, and Iowa landowners receive up to $25 million annually in land-lease payments in addition to local taxes paid that help build infrastructure like roads, bridges, and schools. As a small business owner, I work with businesses and industries that are looking to relocate operations to our great state because of our diverse generation mix, including a high percentage of wind.
Wind energy is a smart investment because it works. Iowans are realizing the benefits of the state's early investment through lower electricity rates and increased economic development opportunities throughout Iowa. Maybe our neighbors to the east will catch up someday.
Jon Kallen is managing partner with Jennings Kallen Advisors in Des Moines, Iowa. This column was originally published in the Des Moines Register.