Iowa up for $45 million grant from Department of Energy


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Tall, white, three-bladed wind turbines are sprouting out of Iowa’s corn fields. In the future, the turbines are likely to spread and grow — possibly with the help of UI research.

University officials presented a proposal Tuesday to the Iowa Power Fund for the world’s first large-scale turbine test site, which would be located on university land.

“Every kilowatt hour we generate with wind is a kilowatt hour we don’t generate with coal or other fuels,” said Dan Mineck, the former vice president of engineering for Alliant Energy. “The potential to help the state really excites me. The testing facility would significantly enhance business activities related to wind industry in Iowa.”

The proposal for the Wind Energy National Testing Institute is part of a bid for $45 million in federal stimulus money dedicated to the testing of large-scale drive trains.

Drive trains, located on the pod-like section behind the whirring blades, control the speed of the turning as it moves into the generators that change the energy into electricity.

Drive trains undergo a great deal of stress when wind changes directions or gusts.

“The big problem with turbines right now is they are supposed to last 20 years, but in reality they only last about three, with many failures,” said Herman Reininga, the interim director of the UI National Advanced Driving Simulator and proposal manager for the project.

Although the Department of Energy hasn’t announced the recipient of the stimulus money, if the UI is granted funds, officials hope to have the facility completed within three years.

Several other states, including Michigan, are competing for the funding. However, officials said Iowa has a strong chance because it is the second largest generator of wind energy in the country.

“We are right in the heart of wind-generating activity, and we have a lot of turbines out there to draw from,” Reininga said.

Currently, the biggest turbine in the United States is 2.5 megawatts, and the largest test facility in the world, in Spain, reaches 5 megawatts, Mineck said. The national testing facility would test turbines as large as 15 megawatts.

According to the Energy Department, the wind industry is increasingly using larger turbines. The growth in the turbines has outpaced the abilities of existing testing facilities.

“This project represents a lot of first-time and one-time only engineering that will all have to be developed and built very soon,” Mineck said.

The Energy Department requires proposals to include matching funding from states.

“If we cannot get Iowa money, almost certainly the federal money will go somewhere else,” Mineck said, and the board presented proposals for $15 million from the Iowa Power Fund and $5 million from the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

According to a report from the Department of Energy, available wind energy exceeds energy requirements nationwide.

“Wind is the one thing that isn’t going to go away,” Reininga said. “Harnessing that wind does no damage to the environment. It is natural that we should figure out how to harness it and use it efficiently.”

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