Should Iowa be incentivizing wind energy?


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When it comes to giving incentives to businesses and markets, the government should always butt out.

Looking as far back at Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, it is clear that the foundations of economic theory state that capitalistic free markets allow for prosperity and advancement. This is why the Iowa Legislature should revisit the economics of tax breaks for wind power and let them expire at the end of this year.

Iowa ranks second in wind power generation nationally with 4,322 megawatts of capacity, surpassed only by Texas's 10,377 megawatts. But when you look at the energy generation in Iowa with coal, wind dwarfs it in comparison — 72 percent of energy generation in 2010 came from coal, with 7,630 megawatts of capacity. 

There's a good reason for this: The power generated from wind turbines cannot be stored efficiently. While there are some scientists and engineers that believe they have created a battery efficient enough to support wind power, it's not ready for real-world implementation, nor is it cheap enough to be a viable alternative.

Not to mention the fact that the seasons and weather conditions in general play a huge role in how much electricity is produced. Obviously, if there's no wind, you have no power generation. The winter months are windier than the summer months, when electricity is needed the most.

Texas experienced this lag last year. On Aug. 24, electricity demand in the state was around 66,000 megawatts, near full capacity. It was a dry, windless day, which took a toll on wind power. Only 880 megawatts of power were produced on that day instead of the 10,377 that were supposed to be generated. Until battery technologies advance, this will be a common problem. 

On top of this, the price paid for alternative energies far exceeds any benefits. The tax credit that wind producers are hoping to retain next year is 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour production. While that doesn't seem like much, the math tells another story. Wind producers around Iowa are exempt from paying more than $1.63 billion in state taxes, according to 2009 data.

Iowa officials should learn from national governments' experiences with premature energies, particularly Spain. For every "green job" financed by Spanish taxpayers, 2.2 jobs were removed elsewhere in the economy because of opportunity costs. Our federal government's ventures into solar power have been disastrous, most notably with the bankruptcy of Solyndra, Inc. after receiving $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Clearly, all this government intervention into the market has only screwed things up.

Despite all of this, I have confidence that many alternative energy sources will eventually become feasible for widespread implementation, but only if the government gets out of the way.

— Joe Schueller


When I was a kid, my great grandmother lived on a working farm. The simple farmhouse sat on hundreds of acres filled with rows of corn, offset by the quaint, wooden barn and the massive silos.

Though the house was later blown up by my grandmother's ancient Oldsmobile, the remnants of a classic farm remains.

This, of course, included a windmill.

The truth is, the human race has been using wind power since 500 A.D. — back when the Persians thought it would be nice if they could let the wind do a little of the grain grinding and water pumping for once. They created what is known as the panemone: genius.

But, after 1,500 years, it's time for someone to step in and give the geniuses a little push in the right direction.

I'm not talking about government privatization of industry or the destruction of capitalism: I'm talking about the investment in the energy future of America.

Oh, yes, I can hear my Tea Partying grandfather groaning — the abstract idea of a future of America not exactly like the '60s can be unbearable at times.

This is what we are talking about though: an abstraction. There are very few states that have enough wind power to make a considerable dent in their residents' energy consumption. It's scary to think about the unknown — who knows if wind power will work? It could be a crash and burn; we may have to sell the store to keep necessities like the state lottery running.

But it's time to scratch the surface of the seemingly impossible — if bribing people to wake up from their oil-induced comas will do the trick, then the option should be left on the table.

Think of it like a reverse sin tax: If you can tax a devilish amount for my pack of cigarettes, then I want to give a little of that money to alternative energy. I'm not asking for the whole turkey here, I'm just asking for a little of the dark meat.

Wind power is a start, but it may not be the finish: It's necessary, but it may not be sufficient. I don't understand people who try to look for one and only one alternative source of energy; the ones who search for the holy grail that will make their televisions hum. Wind power may not be the most viable option, but it may certainly play a part in the mosaic of future energy.

If Iowa can play a small part in pioneering a viable source of renewable energy, let's tilt the windmill and continue to throw the industry a little bit of money.

— Benjamin Evans

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