Experts: Iowa's wind farm growth will slow in the coming year


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Iowa is one of the top wind-energy producers in the nation, but that may change in 2012.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa was third in the nation for new wind-power installations, with 646.7 megawatts of wind energy and 282 new turbines constructed in 2011.

"This shows that traditional tax incentives are working," said American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode in a press release. "In hard economic times, we're creating jobs and delivering clean, affordable electricity."

However, she warned of the coming end to the federal production tax credit, which provides American energy producers with tax incentives to build and expand their wind-farm operations.

"We will lose all these consumer benefits and a brand-new, growing manufacturing sector if Congress allows the production tax credit to expire," Bode said. "Businesses need certainty."

The loss of incentives is one reason Iowa's MidAmerican Energy is looking elsewhere for energy growth. The Des Moines-based company — one of the largest operators of wind farms in the nation — recently announced it would only add 172 turbines during 2012 and scale back even further in 2013.

"Obviously, it's in our best interests to take advantage of these tax incentives when they're available," said Tina Potthoff, a MidAmerican media-relations manager.

Potthoff said MidAmerican was moving away from carbon-generating energy sources, such as coal and natural gas, making wind a perfect fit for Iowa. By this year's end, MidAmerican expects to produce about 29 percent of its total energy via wind.

However, she said, wind energy is not able to meet Iowa's energy needs 24 hours a day.

"Wind only blows about a third of the time, and the Sun shines even less," she said. "So while MidAmerican supports the transition towards renewable energy, we cannot abandon the reliability of sources such as coal or nuclear power."

While Potthoff said MidAmerican will continue to invest in wind energy — the company announced January it would begin a renewable-energy division that month — it will also look toward nuclear power as it moves toward a "carbon-constrained" future.

David Murphy of environmental advocacy group Food Democracy Now said current wind energy investments should be kept in the state.

"Energy that our wind farmers produce here in Iowa should be put into the grid in Iowa," he said. "Though we are happy to provide energy to other states, it is a more sustainable solution for everyone if they are able to produce their own, local renewable energy."

With the federal production tax credit phasing out at the end of the year, Murphy said, Iowa lawmakers should develop a statewide wind-energy tax credit so local farmers and municipalities can start producing their own green energy.

"It's a pretty standard way of incentivizing positive business solutions," he said. "We built our current industrial agriculture system through tax incentives. It's a pretty standard model, so there shouldn't be any controversy over it."

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