With one-third of Iowa’s energy from wind that has turned into billions of dollars invested in the state in various ways, a wind-energy advocacy group encouraged Page County to strengthen those numbers.
Representatives from Power Up Iowa met privately with invited people in Clarinda last month about their mission.
Power Up Iowa is a statewide coalition of renewable energy supporters advocating for local, state and federal policies that bring wind energy investment into Iowa. By educating, raising awareness, and participating in conversations with our state’s leaders, Power Up Iowa will make the case for continued wind power growth, which will create jobs and new economic opportunities for families and businesses across the state. Supporters come from economic development, businesses, chamber of commerces, elected officials and landowners.
“We provide education to people on the economic benefits of wind in their communities,” said Mak Heddens, deputy director of Power Up Iowa. “Those benefits are tax revenue, leases, jobs and education.”
Heddens said Iowa has the ideal topography and infrastructure to support the wind-turbine industry.
“The wind blows well here. When you look at a wind map, the Midwest states of western Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas have the wind. There are transmission lines, too. Companies can see what they can do here. Iowa has been a good place,” she said.
Power Up shows 34 percent of electricity produced in Iowa is from wind and Iowa was the first state to reach that level. Heddens claims Iowa’s utility rates is among the lowest 10 in the country and wind is a strong reason. Wisconsin only has 2 percent of its electricity from wind but has higher utility rates.
“We want Iowa to maintain as a leader. We have $16.3 billion invested across the state since 2018,” she said.
Various places have economically benefited from wind in Iowa. According to their research, Mitchell County in north-central Iowa along the Minnesota border has 201 turbines. That has created a taxable valuation of at least $13 million. Of that, the county receives 18 percent, making the turbines the largest taxpayer in the county.
“And schools, the county’s roads and bridges and emergency services benefit without having to raise taxes,” she said.
A portion of the tax revenue was used to help build a new courthouse in Mitchell County.
Cherokee County in northwest Iowa has about $500,000 of its wind turbine valuations go toward school districts.
Page County’s formula for property tax revenue from wind turbines is based on procedures used from other counties, and initially created by state legislation. Page County won’t see the full revenue amount until the seventh year after construction. The revenue increases in 5 percent increments until 30 percent is reached.
Northern and northwest Iowa are ideal for wind turbines.
“There is wind and the land is flat, making it prime,” Heddens said.
Iowa’s wind-energy industry goes back to the early 1980s and the technology today is not what it was then, said Heddens.
The lifespan of a turbine typically ranges from 25-35 years. She compared a wind turbine to a car.
“If you take care of it, it will last longer,” she said. “In 25 years, it won’t rust and fall over.”
It’s common for the blades of a turbine to be replaced and the new blades are more efficient. The nacelle, located near the top of the tower, is the piece of the turbine that generates the electricity. Internal components are replaced too.
“Turbines can last much longer and we are seeing that more in northwest Iowa. Wind technology is better now than it was 20 years ago.”
Power Up Iowa research shows wind turbines are responsible for less than 1% of the deaths of the bird population.
“Cats, cars and buildings kill more birds,” Heddens said.
She also said the noise made by turbines is not near as bad as what others make it out to be.
Power Up say Iowa has the ability to produce electricity for a bit more than 2 million homes, but since not all is able to be consumed in Iowa, it’s put on the grid to be used in other states.
“It’s a cash crop,” she said.
Heddens explained how wind turbines can impact the local and personal economy.
“We know of lease payments that range from $4,000 to $13,000,” she said about landowners who allow a turbine on their property. “If one farmer gets $10,000, that’s a lot of money in light of floods, drought and tariffs,”
And the finances are seen in jobs related to wind turbines.
“There are 10,000 plus jobs related to wind. It’s the second fastest growing job behind solar technicians, according to the U.S. Labor Bureau.” Those jobs include technicians and manufacturers of wind turbine parts. Towers are built in Newton and companies in Waverly build internal components.
“Then there is the supply chain of concrete used for construction of a turbine to transportation of the materials,” she said.
Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville offers programs for wind-turbine related jobs.
Heddens said a person with a two-year degree in the field can have a $64,000 a year salary.
“That’s a substantial amount for rural Iowa and it helps people stay in Iowa,” she said. Other line of work in wind turbines can have an average $80,000 a year paycheck. Those skills can be transferred to other industries.
“It has helped Iowa’s brain drain problem,” she said. “The demand is not going away any time soon.”