Exploring Iowa's wind energy industry
By Debi Durham, Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority
As corporate and industrial energy costs steadily trend higher, the need for sustainable and cost-efficient energy solutions has never been greater. Compounding this challenge is the need for companies to be mindful of implementing sustainable practices across all operations, given the ever-changing regulatory landscape and premiums placed on natural resources.
While these issues have placed renewable energy at the forefront of national discourse, the state of Iowa has spent decades working ahead of the curve by passing legislation and building an infrastructure that delivers cost-efficient renewable energy, thanks in large part to its abundant wind resources.
Looking back, a major milestone in Iowa's legislative work in the realm of renewable energy occurred in 1983, as the state's then-new Alternative Energy Production law led to the state implementing the country's first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Iowa's original RPS required the state's two investor-owned utilities to use a minimum amount of renewable wind energy (105 megawatts). Today, that capacity has reached more than 9,000 megawatts.
Since Iowa's original RPS went into effect, 29 states, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories have followed Iowa's lead and adopted their own RPS. While legislation is an important part of moving reliance on and access to alternative energy forward, several of Iowa's inherent traits have helped cement the state as a leader in wind energy.
Location that provides a competitive edge
Iowa's geography not only gives the state access to an abundance of wind and other natural resources, its central location allows for a transportation infrastructure that supports multi-modal logistics in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Two major coast-to-coast, border-to-border interstate arteries travel through Iowa, and the state boasts more public road miles than the entire U.S. Interstate System. This vast network of roads, highways, and interstates connect to more than 3,800 miles of rail freight track operated by 18 railroad companies as well as 60 barge terminals on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Beyond ground transportation, more than 677 million pounds of cargo were transported through Iowa's airports in 2017.
Investments that pay off
Considering the skyrocketing national average for energy costs—often the biggest operational line item—Iowa's low energy costs have made the state an attractive option for global companies to expand operations into the state (tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have already chosen Iowa for energy-intensive facilities). Planned investments of 2,623 MW in new wind energy capacity—the second highest investment level in the nation—increase the potential to attract new companies across various industries that are looking to cut energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint.
A commitment to R&D and workforce development
Realizing the need to continually advance its renewable energy offerings (and the potential for statewide job growth), Iowa's institutions of higher learning have introduced programs committed to renewable energy research and workforce training. Iowa's wind and solar industries support over 9,800 jobs, and the state is projected to have even more job opportunities as the industry continues to grow across the region.
Initiatives such as Iowa Lakes Community College's Wind Energy & Turbine Technology training program—the first of its kind—received the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) Seal of Approval. Furthermore, the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield is home to a solar tracking array that is the focal point of a new study exploring the use of solar energy in powering the university's facilities and portable batteries. (Read the story on that facility beginning on page 26 of this issue of enerG.)
Though these are but two examples, they're indicative of a host of efforts across the state that aid furthering Iowa's future as a renewable energy leader.
Progress as a priority
Considering the growing need for clean energy, Iowa placed a strong focus on wind energy before its popularity soared to current heights. Forward-thinking policy, augmented by Iowa's business-friendly approach, has resulted in our state possessing the second highest installed wind energy capacity of any U.S. state.
Sustained growth in clean, renewable energy is a statewide priority, mutually shared by our legislative bodies, institutions of higher learning, utility companies, clean energy advocates, and business partners. Though the aforementioned capital investments are undoubtedly necessary, we're especially encouraged by this collective vision, inspired by the efforts made thus far, and energized for those to come.
Debi Durham was appointed to lead the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) by Governor Terry Branstad in January 2011 and as of 2019 also serves as the director of the Iowa Finance Authority. Previously, she served as president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and the Siouxland Initiative.
For more information about Iowa's wind energy, visit