"What we acquired were the lease agreements and options, along with some of the environmental and pre-site prep work," says Alliant's Ryan Stensland. "There's been no sinking of steel or breaking ground or anything like that. And we've made no determination yet on development of the 300 MW."
IPL, which expects the initial 200 MW to cost $400-450 million when complete, is in the market for turbines for the 92,000 acre site (372 square kilometres). An easternmost tract was chosen because of adequate existing transmission. The company will develop the project through another Alliant subsidiary, WindConnect, which has built wind farms, transmission lines and substations in Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Construction is scheduled for next year, with or without an extension of wind's production tax credit (PTC) beyond the end of this year. "If the PTC is not renewed or went away -- and we have full confidence that it will be renewed -- we'd have to take a step back and ask if this is in our best interest," Stensland says. "At this time the plan would still be that we would work to develop that 200 MW. However, developing that next 300 MW might not come as quickly."
The overriding factor right now driving Alliant's push is the likelihood of a federal mandate for green power in the form of a renewables portfolio standard (RPS) that would require all utilities in the US to source a rising percentage of their power from renewables. "We want to make sure that if there's a federal RPS that comes down the pipeline -- which we fully believe is going to happen eventually -- that we have the sites and the ability to meet that RPS, whatever the standard may be set at, whether it's five percent or 25 percent. And that's part of the reason we're acquiring sites right now and looking to build those out," Stensland says.
As a multi-state company, Alliant is actively pushing for a federal RPS that makes the playing field equal for everyone, versus each state having its own RPS. "Because you can maybe envision a situation where an RPS in Iowa may conflict with an RPS strategy in Minnesota or Wisconsin. So we fully believe that a federal RPS is the way to go," says Stensland.
Although IPL currently owns no wind projects, Alliant's other electric utility, Wisconsin Power and Light, owns a 68 MW project, Cedar Ridge, currently under construction in Wisconsin's Fond du Lac County. IPL, however, has been buying wind power for 15 years.
"We've purchased power from various wind developers since 1993," Stensland says. "We're the state's largest investor-owned utility purchaser of wind and we currently purchase about 255 MW of wind from different developers."
But ownership seems to be the way of the future for an increasing number of utilities. "We've come a long way in the last 15 years and felt that now would be a good time to start to own that generation because the gap has narrowed as far as the cost," Stensland says.
Iowa, long near the forefront of US wind development, ranked fourth in the nation with 1273 MW online through the end of last year. IPL delivers electricity to 526,000 customers in Iowa and Minnesota. "Wind is definitely becoming a critical component of our energy supply portfolio," Stensland says. "We'll continue to look for ways to expand our renewables portfolio as additional opportunities come up over the years."