Policy and political issues impede wind energy in Iowa, experts say


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An Iowa energy expert said public policy and political issues form the greatest obstacles to an expansion of wind energy in the state at a symposium Thursday.

University of Iowa engineering adjunct lecturer Dan Mineck said people often worry about technological limits in considering future energy problems.

"[But, what we need to focus on is] a political policy that will get us to where we need to be, so we can have a sustainable energy future for our kids and their kids," he said.

Mineck discussed the future of wind energy Thursday night in Macbride Auditorium. The retired vice president of energy and environment at Alliant Energy stressed the need to build more transmission lines to allow the abundance of wind power in the Midwest to be harvested from the region and sold on the coasts.

Wind power makes up 18.8 percent of all Iowa-produced energy, according to the Iowa Wind Energy Association.

Mineck also addressed the political roadblocks officials must face to begin an expansion.

"One of the reasons it's difficult to get the public policies we need to secure our futures is because federal agencies each have a different role that is largely uncoordinated," he said. "State agencies, such as the Iowa Utilities Board, and public-utility commissions in every state also influence public policy — so it's really hard to get a uniform, well-defined policy."

Rob Hillesland, information specialist at the Iowa Utilities Board, also stressed that construction of more transmission lines to each coast would benefit Iowa.

"The big issue is, who will pay for it? Who will be permitting?" Hillesland said.

Harold Prior, the executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association, said Iowa has had consistent policies up until recently regarding wind-energy transmission. Yet Iowa's federal production tax credit will expire in December, he said, and the state's wind industry growth could stop if Congress does not renew the credit.

"We're very confident it will," he said. "Congress understands that there will be a significant loss of jobs in the wind industry as a result of that."

Prior also said more transmission lines are being developed. Clear Line Energy Co. will construct four high-voltage transmission lines in the central region of the United States; the project should be completed in 2016.

Kathleen Harrison, the communications manager of the Iowa Energy Center, said energy generated by wind power must be used right away because it is difficult to store.

"The structure that we have now for transmitting power is considered outdated," she said. "We need to update for good so it can handle alternate forms of energy."

Hillesland said he believes in using numerous forms of energy.

"It's important to have a portfolio of each energy source, because the wind doesn't blow all the time," he said.

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