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From Site Selection magazine, June 2014

The Invisible Crop

Iowa continues to be a case study in fulfilling the promise of the wind.

With three rotor blades on each MidAmerican Energy’s 448 ordered wind turbines, a total of 1,344 blades will be delivered via truck or rail from Siemens’ production site in Fort Madison, Iowa, to MidAmerican’s latest five wind farm projects in the state. If you put all of those rotor blades in a row, they would span a distance of over 44 miles (71 km.).
Photo courtesy of Siemens


ata center servers are flocking to Iowa at nearly the same rate wind turbines are. It was only a matter of time before they started running into each other.

Just before Earth Day in April, Google and MidAmerican Energy announced that the utility will supply Google’s data center in Council Bluffs, across the Missouri River from Omaha, with up to 407 megawatts (MW) of wind-sourced energy. The wind power will come from several wind projects that are part of MidAmerican Energy’s Wind VIII program, an initiative under which MidAmerican Energy will bring 1,050 MW of new Iowa wind power online by the end of 2015.

“At Google, we pursue a variety of approaches to power our operations with renewable energy,” said Gary Demasi, Google’s director of global infrastructure. “One great way to do this is by working with our utility partners like MidAmerican Energy, and we hope this agreement will inspire all of our utilities to work with us in finding ways to increase the supply of clean power.”

The agreement fully supplies the first phase of Google’s facilities in Council Bluffs with 100-percent renewable wind energy, bundled with and tracked by renewable energy certificates, and will allow additional phases to be supplied with wind-sourced energy as the company grows in Iowa. Google has been working with MidAmerican Energy to procure additional renewable resources since the construction of Google’s data center in Iowa in 2007, and when MidAmerican Energy filed for approval for Wind VIII it had companies like Google in mind as customers.


Map courtesy of AWEA

As luck would have it, 2007 also was the year Siemens’ wind turbine blade plant all the way across the state in Fort Madison, on the Mississippi River, kicked out its first blade. In April, that plant’s 500 employees produced their 10,000th blade.

What’s the connection? In December, MidAmerican (owned by Berkshire Hathaway) placed the largest single order for onshore wind power ever awarded globally, for 448 wind turbines with capacity of 1,050 megawatts, with Siemens. The order has been estimated to be worth approximately $1 billion. The hubs and nacelles will come from Siemens’ plant in Kansas, and all the blades will come from Fort Madison, where Siemens has invested $100 million and doubled the number of jobs the site formerly hosted when it was a tractor-trailer manufacturing facility.

The turbines will be deployed at five different wind farms hovering above the state’s farm fields, where around 24 percent of total power generation in the state was provided by wind power in 2012. In 2013 that percentage climbed to 27.4 percent.

The Dec. 16 order follows on a Dec. 2010 order from MidAmerican that at that time also was the largest to date, for 258 turbines. According to MidAmerican, approximately 1,000 construction jobs will be added to Iowa’s economy during the two-year construction period for the new wind turbines, and approximately 40 new permanent jobs will be added when the expansion is complete.

The expansion also will provide more than $3 million in landowner payments each year and more than $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years. The expansion will be constructed at no net cost to the company’s customers and will help stabilize electric rates over the long term, says MidAmerican. “When the new projects are completed in 2015, MidAmerican Energy and Siemens will have provided more than 2.2 gigawatts of clean, wind-generated electricity in Iowa since 2008,” said Bill Fehrman, president and CEO, MidAmerican Energy, adding that the five new wind farms “will have a major impact on Iowa’s economy and energy future.”

Fields of Gold

MidAmerican Energy began installing wind turbines in 2004. Today, no other US rate-regulated utility owns more wind-powered generation capacity. In May 2013, MidAmerican announced plans to invest up to $1.9 billion to expand its wind generation fleet and add up to 1,050 megawatts of wind generation in Iowa by year-end 2015. Construction activity is now under way at each of the five project sites, which are located in Grundy, Madison, Marshall, O’Brien and Webster counties.

Kiana Johnson, executive director at O’Brien County Economic Development, says it’s only the beginning for wind in the area. MidAmerican is also building a substation in Lincoln Township to facilitate the new wind energy in coming decades. As the utility invests some $5.6 billion in 6,500 miles of power line, Iowa will get 520 miles of new transmission line.

Meanwhile, says Johnson, Rock Island Clean Line Energy (RICL) plans to build a converter station in the county’s Center Township that will convert AC to DC, and will develop a high voltage direct current (HVDC) wind energy transmission line. Duke-American Transmission Co. is on the radar, as the partnership has plans for seven new transmission line projects in five Midwestern states. And California–based Eurus Energy has announced it plans to move forward with the development of the Hawkeye Point Project, a 200-MW wind farm.

O’Brien County is part of a six-county region that in late 2013 was designated a Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) after an application was submitted by Northwest Iowa Development.

The new zone encompasses the northwest Iowa counties of Cherokee, Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola, Plymouth and Sioux and is adjacent to the Sioux Falls Customs and Border Protection port of entry. It is only the fourth FTZ in Iowa and the sole FTZ that covers a rural area.

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