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Wind farm fuels state strategy -- Huge 310 MW Iowa project

Already third in the nation's wind power league with 423 MW of operating wind plant, Iowa will now be the site of one of the largest land-based wind farms in the world. MidAmerican Energy's planned $323 million, 310 MW project will also take a significant bite out of Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's non-binding goal to produce 1000 MW of energy with renewable power by 2010.

To gain approval from the Iowa Utility Board, the state's electricity regulator, the Iowa legislature had to pass a bill to allow MidAmerican to own the project. The approval was granted in a near-unanimous vote by the state legislature in mid-April -- a decision that MidAmerican had apparently regarded as a foregone conclusion as it announced the project in March.

"This legislation will help put Iowa well on our way to reaching the goal of becoming energy independent and producing one thousand megawatts of renewable energy per year by the end of the decade," says Vilsack. "Iowa is one of the windiest states in the country and we need to get more turbines spinning, generating power and creating opportunities for Iowans."

Vilsack, who believes renewable energy can help fuel a transformation in the state from an energy importer to an energy exporter, has also proposed a plan to invest $50 million to spur renewable energy development in the state (Windpower Monthly, April 2003).

MidAmerican, the largest utility in Iowa with more than 673,000 electric customers and 652,000 natural gas customers, needed legislative approval because of the state's renewables portfolio standard legislation. It sets a target of 2% renewables in supply portfolios by 2011, but only allows utilities in the state to buy renewable energy to receive a credit, not own projects. "With our renewables focus, we want to own the project," says Jack Alexander, a senior vice president at the utility. MidAmerican already buys 112.5 MW of wind in Iowa and a small amount of biomass.

Largest

The project, to be located in the northern part of the state, will consist of 180-200 wind turbines with a rated capacity of 1.5 MW to 1.65 MW each. In concept, MidAmerican will bring one-third of the turbines -- about 103 MW -- online each year from 2004 through 2006, but construction could be on a faster track, depending on agreements with developers. The agreements are due to be announced early this month, Alexander says.

If the project were built today, it would constitute the largest wind farm in the world, beating out FPL Energy's Stateline project on the Oregon and Washington border by 10 MW. That project, however, is expected to grow in size by 19 MW this year and could see expansions to as much as 500 MW if the necessary permits are granted.

At the same time, MidAmerican has asked approval to build two more generating plants, one coal and the other a gas-fired generator, both in Iowa. The package in total will cost about $1.7 billion for 1640 MW of generation. Nonetheless, the utility has promised to hold its retail electricity rates at 1995 levels through 2010.

The fact that the company is a subsidiary of oil mogul Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc gives the utility the financial means to invest in renewables at a time when the nation's utility industry is in turmoil.

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