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By Craig Lewis
Iowa is no stranger to wind power. In 2012, the state generated nearly a quarter of its total electricity from wind, and Iowa ranks third nationally — trailing only Texas and California — in installed wind capacity.
With such significant renewable power generation already online in Iowa, forward-thinking state legislators have turned their attention to maximizing the local economic benefits of Iowa’s enviable renewable resources. The result is SF 372 — a bill, currently navigating the Iowa Senate, to transform the state’s energy economy by empowering Iowans to build and own community-scale wind projects.
Virtually all of Iowa’s existing renewable power capacity comes from massive and remote wind projects that are owned by multinational utility corporations. While some farmers have been able to earn a bit of revenue by allowing the development of big wind farms on their land, most have had no pathway to participate in Iowa’s burgeoning renewable energy economy.
SF 372 is the first step to change this unfortunate situation by shifting wind energy production – and the associated economic benefits – to Iowa’s farmers through the adoption of a statewide Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) Program.
CLEAN Programs – also known as feed-in tariffs with streamlined interconnection – are a proven energy policy responsible for the vast majority of renewable energy that has been deployed globally. Iowa is positioning to build on CLEAN Program success, as SF 372 aims to drive deployments of roughly 60 megawatts of community-scale wind energy annually in the state.
CLEAN Programs accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by encouraging broad participation. Iowa’s proposed program would spur in-state economic development, allowing farmers to be energy producers – not just consumers – by building wind turbines on agricultural lands and selling energy to utilities at a predetermined and reasonable rate.
Critically, SF 372 strengthens Iowa’s economy as it creates new revenue streams for Iowans and keeps energy dollars close to home. The bill provides the first major opportunity for Iowans to have locally owned and produced renewable power, rather than paying multinational utility companies for energy generated from massive and remote power plants.
SF 372’s support for distributed wind generation comes at a key time, as Iowa has plenty of additional wind to harness. Although the state currently produces 5,000 MW of wind power, Iowa has a total wind potential of 500,000 MW. Despite SF 372’s relatively modest 60 MW of community-scale wind per year, this legislation marks a key first step to ensure that Iowans will reap the full economic benefits of their renewable resources.
Ontario, Canada – which implemented a CLEAN Program in 2009 – has brought over 2,000 MW of wind power online, created over 20,000 jobs, and has more than 12,000 families, farmers, community groups, and small businesses participating in energy generation.
Similarly, Iowa can empower its citizens to drive growth in the wind industry through the creation of a CLEAN Program.
With its focus on distributed wind generation, SF 372 also promises to cost-effectively enhance the security of Iowa’s power system. The current system of generating electricity from remote, massive power plants and then traversing long distances over inefficient transmission lines to population centers creates a system vulnerable to massive failures. Any disruption to centralized power generation or transmission lines – whether from severe weather, mechanical malfunction, human error, or terrorist attack – can result in power failures affecting entire regions of the country.
Incorporating smaller, decentralized power generation will diversify Iowa’s energy supply and reduce the risk of widespread power outages. Also, by locking in long-term, fixed rates for local energy, SF 372 further protects Iowans from the volatile — inevitably rising — costs of fossil fuels.
Iowa is at a crossroads. Rather than continuing to allow out-of-state entities to monopolize Iowa’s renewable resources, Iowa can enact SF 372 to foster the growth of locally owned and produced power. This bill stages Iowa to significantly strengthen its economy and energy security, while also enhancing the state’s position as a clean energy leader.
Craig Lewis is the executive director of the Clean Coalition, which advocates for clean local energy. The Clean Coalition is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News.