New Wind Power Group Pushes for Infrastructure to Get Power to More Buyers

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Dave Franzman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A new group pushing wind power development in Iowa announced the official launch of the organization Monday. And the Windward Iowa organization has a slightly different focus than many wind power organizations. This group, that includes wind power activists, vendors and industry leaders, is pushing for more ways to send Iowa’s wind power to customers who want to buy it rather than merely focusing on the construction of more wind turbines in the state. And that means upgrading transmission lines to export the electricity produced from wind.

Craig Lang, a board member of Windward Iowa, announced the official launch of the new organization at Kirkwood Community College’s Energy Production and Distribution Technologies program in Cedar Rapids. That training program includes many students hoping for technician jobs in the wind power industry.

Lang said wind in Iowa could produce 40 times the power requirements of the entire state if there were enough wind turbines and the transmission grid to distribute that power. But Lang said without more ways to send the power to buyers, primarily in other states, there is a limit on how much wind power in Iowa can continue to grow. Twenty five percent of all the power in Iowa comes from wind and the industry, including both manufacturers and companies installing wind turbines, employs about 7,000 people.

“If we don’t build more grid to take excess power out (of Iowa) we’ve stalemated the industry we have today,” Lang said.

The Rock Island Clean Line is one for-profit company proposing to ship wind power produced in western Iowa to the outskirts of Chicago. None of that power would stay in Iowa and a number of landowners along the proposed 500-mile-long transmission line route have opposed the plan. Some owners and farmers have expressed concerns about potential damage to land from transmission tower construction and the threat of eminent domain to push a route if enough willing sellers aren’t found.

But Lang said while the new Windward Iowa group is in favor of more transmission lines to provide a market for wind power, it will not take a stand on individual projects including the current Clean Line proposal. But Lang, and Mike Prior, interim director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, hope the new organization could serve as a “go-between” to bridge some of the disagreements between land owners and the Clean Line developers.

Prior said one argument he likes to use is one that directly applies to farmers. Prior said in many ways wind power is like agriculture.

“It would be no different than any other commodity in our state—hogs, corn soybeans. We don’t consume all those things in the state of Iowa. We make a healthy amount of money off those commodities sold elsewhere and wind energy should be no different,” Prior said.

Students at the Kirkwood training program attended the announcement and several said they have more than a passing interest in getting more transmission lines in Iowa. Some, including student Manny Tejada, graduate from the program in May and are actively seeking jobs. Tejada said with the lack of transmission lines perhaps setting a cap on wind power growth in the state he’s not too sure of getting a job here.

“I would love to be in Iowa, this is all I know. But right now, it’s not looking good,” Tejada said.

Lang said Windward Iowa estimates there are 3,200 wind energy jobs currently available nationwide. But he’s not sure how many of those future new openings will come in Iowa unless electricity produced from wind power here can leave the state to find willing buyers.

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