Iowa Wind Power builds taller and innovative wind towers

by Tina Casey

We were just talking about GE’s new taller wind turbine tower, which will hit the market next week at a whopping 139 meters, when along comes the latest American Wind Energy Association wind power report showing that the great state of Iowa now gets about 27 percent of its electricity from wind.

With the tallest turbine in Iowa reaching only 94 meters, imagine what’s going to happen to Iowa wind power production when taller wind turbine towers get into the ground.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. We had a great sneak peek at GE’s new taller wind turbine tower earlier this week, and while we were talking with the folks over there the subject of taller wind turbine towers made with concrete came up.

It just so happens Iowa is home to at least two of the larger cement plants in the US (concrete is cement mixed with an aggregate), so let’s take a quick look back at what we learned from GE in terms of materials and the cost of wind power.

Wind turbine in Iowa by inkknife_2000.
Iowa gets 27% of its energy from wind power and will soon get even more than that. Iowa is also rich in cement plants, so they have built 94 metre tall wind turbine towers from concrete to lower costs and speed installations. Wind turbine in Iowa by inkknife_2000

Low Cost Wind Power And Taller Wind Turbine Towers

Our visit to GE took us to the Mohave desert, where the company has built a 97-meter prototype (limited to 97 by FAA regulations) for the 139-meter commercial version of its new “Space Frame” steel turbine tower. One key takeaway from our conversation there was the influence of factors on the cost of wind power other than the efficiency of the turbine itself.

In terms of the wind turbine tower, those other factors include raw materials, shipping, and labor, all of which can curtail height to cost-effective dimensions.

Within the shipping costs you also find a whole tangle of complications. One key factor there is the configuration of roads, bridges, and tunnels.

That’s why, GE pointed out to us, you’re not going to see much in the way of tubular-style wind turbine towers with a base larger than the current standard. Right now, the industry is conforming to the size of components that can get from point A to point B on a flatbed hauler, and with the size of the base curtailed, you’re not going to gain much in height from here on out.

That’s where GE’s solution comes in. It’s a steel space frame (that’s an engineering term for latticework) tower and instead of coming in a tube it has five distinct sides that are assembled on site. It can be flatpacked for transit, and the whole thing fits into standard shipping containers.

Another solution already on the market is to build all or part of the tower from concrete, though given the logistics involved with concrete that’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It could be more cost-effective in regions where a cement plant is handy, and that’s where Iowa comes in.

Iowa And Taller Wind Towers

Iowa has four Portland cement sites, two of which are listed by the US EPA as among the larger cement plants in the country. It makes sense to give the local industry a boost and that is exactly what has been going on.

Just last May we noticed that researchers at Iowa State University are working on stress tests for a concrete wind turbine tower. Though their goal of 100 meters falls short of the GE Space Frame mark, it’s well above the currently typical range of 80 meters. The research has been funded by the state’s Grow Iowa Values economic development fund.

Also with the state’s cement facilities in mind, back in 2011 Spain-based Acciona Windpower announced plans for building concrete wind turbine towers in Iowa. We don’t have an update on that project but the company does have a turbine with a 120-meter concrete tower on the market.

Iowa At 27% Wind Power

Iowa is one of eleven states that are part of MISO, a regional grid operator that is very keen on wind power. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) has also been an aggressive champion for extending the production tax credit for wind power, despite his party’s marked lack of enthusiasm.

Those are two key factors driving the state’s growth in wind power. According to the latest report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind power accounted for 27 percent of the total electricity production in the state in 2013.

It looks like we ain’t seen nothing yet. Another key factor in Iowa’s wind energy growth is Warren Buffet, the well known investor. His MidAmerican Energy company is already heavily involved in the Iowa wind industry and just last year he announced that he would pour another $1.9 billion into new wind farms in Iowa.

Note: for the record, we got that figure of 94 meters for Iowa’s tallest wind turbine tower from the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State (it happens to be a GE project, coincidentally). If you know of a taller one in the state, please let us know in the comment thread.

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This article, Iowa Eyes Concrete to Blow Past 27% Wind Power Mark, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

JBS Renewable Energy. Wind Power. Tina CaseyTina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+

Iowa: The #1 Solar Utility in America. Iowa? Kudos to Iowa!

by John Farrell.

It may be one of the oldest cooperative utilities in the country, but in the next six months, Farmers Electric Cooperative (FEC) of southeastern Iowa will be leading the nation in this 21st century energy source. Upon completion of a new solar array, the 640-member cooperative will have over 1,500 Watts of solar per customer on their system, nearly double the #2 utility. It’s also the most reliable utility in Iowa. How can a small, member-owned utility be “America’s Most Progressive Utility“?

Find out in this interview with FEC Manager Warren McKenna, recorded via Skype, on November 18, 2013.

Local Energy Rules podcast: Play in new window | Download | Embed

Flexibility

Unlike many small cooperative or municipal utilities, Farmers Electric Cooperative only buys 30% of its energy on long-term contracts. Instead, McKenna explains, they buy power on the spot market, using local power generation and demand management to avoid price spikes. This leaves them open to buying power from local generators, especially solar.

Creativity

FEC hasn’t limited itself to just one strategy for adding solar to the grid. In fact, they don’t even have net metering, the most common policy for connecting small-scale solar projects.

Instead, they have a feed-in tariff at pays 20¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for solar energy, as long as it’s 25% or less of a customer’s own use. For solar energy produced that is between 25 and 100% of a customer’s monthly usage, customers still get 12.5¢ per kWh (the retail electricity rate for residential customers). Surplus generation is purchased by the utility at 6¢ per kWh.  Participating customers still buy all their electricity from the utility

FEC also has a 25 kW community solar project, selling shares to new customers in phase 2 for just $1.63 per Watt. Current participants can buy additional panels for $2 per Watt.

Finally, the cooperative has also commissioned a new 750 kW solar array which will sell power to the utility for its first 10 years, and the revert to cooperative ownership thereafter.

Participation

Since it’s a cooperative, technically every FEC member is an owner in a local solar project. But ignoring that for the moment, about 20% of the cooperative’s members either have their own solar array, own shares in the community solar project, or participate in the Green Power Project (a $3 per month green pricing program for purchasing local renewable energy).

Replicable?

The big question is, could your local utility do what Farmers Electric is doing?  If your utility happens to be locally owned, says McKenna. Cooperatives are often very open to comments from their members, and if not, you can run for the board.  Municipal utilities are overseen by elected officials, who are always looking for examples of strategies to increase local jobs, particularly from clean energy.

It’s inspiring to see what FEC has accomplished, regardless.  Most of the greenest utilities in the U.S. are among the largest, and Farmers Electric shows that you don’t have to be a big utility to do big things with locally owned renewable energy.

This is the 12th edition of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Senior Researcher John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday.  Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes or RSS/XML

Sign up for new podcast notifications and weekly email updates from ILSR’s energy program!

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This article, The #1 Solar Utility Is In…Iowa?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. John Farrell.John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

In Iowa, Wind Energy Helps Avoid 8.4 Million Tons Of Carbon Emissions

by Guest Contributor Kiley Kroh.

Wind energy. Credit: Shutterstock
Wind energy. Credit: Shutterstock

Originally published on Climate Progress.

Iowa’s hugely successful wind industry isn’t just an economic driver, it’s having a major impact on cutting pollution and saving water. Wind energy generation in Iowa avoids more than 8.4 million metric tons of climate-altering carbon pollution — the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road, according to a new report released by Environment Iowa.

Additionally, the report found that wind energy saves Iowans nearly 3.8 billion gallons of water per year, enough to meet the needs of over 158,000 people. The U.S. National Drought Monitor shows a significant portion of the state is in moderate to severe drought conditions and has been for several months.

The rapid growth of wind energy in Iowa is remarkable; it now provides 13.9 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, equal to 24.5 percent of the state’s total electricity and the highest percentage nationwide. Further, Environment Iowa predicts that “Iowa could be on track to nearly double its wind production in the next five years so that wind could generate as much as 50 percent of all electricity in the state by 2018.”

A key reason for the state’s ability to attract major investment in wind energy is the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), which is currently set to expire at the end of the year. In May, MidAmerican Energy Co. announced it will invest $1.9 billion in wind energy in Iowa, the largest single economic investment in the state. The project is expected to add 1,050 megawatts of wind generation and the added wind generation is expected to cut consumer rates by $3.3 million in 2015 and $10 million annually by 2017, the company estimated.

As USA Today pointed out, unlike recently announced fertilizer plant construction projects, “MidAmerican Energy will receive no state incentives but will receive federal wind production tax credits.”

Despite its vital role in driving the expansion of the wind industry — and driving economic growth not only in Iowa, but states such as Texas, California, and Colorado, to name a few — the PTC will expire at the end of the year, absent Congressional intervention. “On the strength of the tax credit, Kansas became a leader in wind energy development as the industry invested nearly $3 billion in the state during 2011 and 2012,” The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. But Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) is unmoved; “It expires at the end of the year, and I’m urging my colleagues to simply let it happen,” Pompeo said. Also pushing for expiration are several groups backed by the ultra-conservative, anti-clean energy, petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers.

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This article, In Iowa, Wind Energy Helps Avoid 8.4 Million Tons Of Carbon Emissions, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

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Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people.