An Iowa-based utility submitted plans Wednesday for a massive wind turbine project that would be the nation's first investor-owned electric utility to generate all of its customer demand from wind energy.
Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy wants to build a $922 million wind farm that would generate 591 megawatts of power, or enough electricity to power 2.4 million homes. CEO Adam Wright said that if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the project, the farm would be completed by 2020, before federal tax breaks helping such projects are phased out.
"Reaching 100 percent renewable energy is absolutely the best path to provide our customers a sustainable energy future," Wright said during a news conference in Des Moines.
Technology companies including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook have built several data centers and other facilities in Iowa in recent years citing the state's wind energy advantage. Iowa provided 37 percent of its total energy generation from wind in 2017, a larger share than any other state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who supports the newest project, said Iowa's dedication to wind energy "has helped create a competitive advantage for our state."
But adding hundreds of more turbines to an Iowa landscape already dotted with thousands is beginning to prompt opposition among some farm landowners. A group called Cedar Valley Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy is fighting the recent approval of a special-use permit to allow a 35-turbine wind farm southeast of Hudson. DeSoto-based RPM Access is proposing the project, but farmer Harold Youngblut, a member of the opposition group, filed a lawsuit last week to block it.
Wright said a location and the number of turbines for his company's project has yet to be determined, as the company considers location options. But he said wind energy allows the company to offer rates 37 percent lower than the national average because it doesn't have to buy fuel like coal or natural gas. When the proposed project is completed, MidAmerican's carbon output would be 65 percent less than it was 15 years ago, he said.
MidAmerican, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway, already has 2,189 wind turbines on 27 wind farms in Iowa, producing 4,400 megawatts of power. If the latest project is approved and completed, the utility would operate a dozen wind-energy projects in the state with a total investment in wind of more than $12 billion.
MidAmerican serves 770,000 electric customers and 751,000 natural gas customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Wright said federal wind production tax credits have paid for most of the capital cost of building the wind farms. As a result, he said, the company has not increased customer rates to build out its wind portfolio. However, Congress passed a bill in December 2015 that phases out the tax credit by 2020.
"For us, the time is right to keep moving forward while the landscape is favorable to do so," Wright said.
Wright said about 51 percent of the company's electricity came from wind last year and the remaining production came from coal, natural gas, nuclear and some purchased energy. By 2020, wind should account for more than 90 percent and is expected to reach 100 percent with the completion of the proposed wind project late that year.