Iowa wind energy legislation generates national interest

A small wind turbine.  Photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons/User: tswindAs the Iowa Wind Energy Association’s annual conference convenes in Des Moines this week, Iowa continues to receive national attention for a piece of legislation on wind energy incentive rates that would help ensure farmers receive a fair price for energy they produce on their farm.

SF372, which unanimously passed the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee on March 7 has been called a “breakthrough” piece of legislation for supporting wind energy development in rural Iowa.  But how would it work?

Nathaniel Baer

Baer

The Iowa Environmental Council energy program director, Nathaniel Baer, led a team in 2011 who analyzed the benefits wind energy incentive rates could provide for Iowa.  The analysis describes the three basic benefits an incentive rate policy provides:

  1. Guaranteed access to the grid for the renewable energy project.
  2. A fair and fixed price paid for the renewable energy on an on-going basis.
  3. A guaranteed time period for the fixed renewable energy price to be paid.

The legislation under consideration in Iowa would only currently support wind projects on land suitable for use in farming, but some supporters have discussed an expansion that could expand its reach to solar and biomass projects.

Writing in Grist, David Roberts explained why this policy is so exciting:

It would start to shift some of the benefits of Iowa’s wind boom into the hands of the state’s citizens. Iowa’s wind industry is growing quickly. The state is third in the nation in wind capacity, behind Texas and California. In 2012, it produced more wind power than California — almost 25 percent of its total electricity use.

But right now virtually all of that wind power comes from big farms owned by multinationals. Contrast that to Germany, where over half the country’s renewable energy is locally owned. With local ownership, more of the economic benefits of wind stay within Iowa. Just as importantly, with local ownership, more Iowans have direct experience with, and a stake in, clean energy. As I’ve said before, encouraging distributed energy creates political constituencies. And in Iowa that constituency now crosses party lines.

Further passage of the legislation would strengthen Iowa’s position as a national leader in wind energy. According to Dan Haugen in Midwest Energy News:

If Iowa were to adopt a feed-in tariff, it would be the first in the Midwest and among the first nationally, following states like Hawaii, California, and Vermont. And according to data from an Iowa Renewable Energy Association lobbyist, Ed Woolsey, Iowa’s program would potentially be among the larger, too, up to 60 megawatts per year.

[Woolsey is also a member of the Iowa Environmental Council’s board of directors.]

For now, though SF372 still faces long odds in the Iowa Legislature, where it must win the support of the full Senate as well as the House.  But unanimous passage of this legislation through the Senate Agriculture Committee is certainly a promising sign.  The Council and many of its allies are hopeful support for this policy in Iowa will continue to grow over time.

To learn more about the Council’s energy program, which supports clean energy development in Iowa, follow this link.

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