Maintaining Iowa’s national leadership in wind energy requires more than just adding additional wind turbines; our state also needs a electric grid capable of moving wind energy to where it is needed. Some windy areas of the state have no existing transmission capacity and in other areas existing lines have reached full capacity.
Occasionally, Iowa wind farms must even stop producing energy because the electric grid is too congested to accept additional production. Now, three of the five Iowa counties where MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to develop more than a gigawatt of additional wind capacity are on or close to transmission upgrades. MidAmerican’s wind expansion has been called the largest single economic development investment in Iowa history.
Several transmission upgrade proposals are moving forward which, if built as proposed, would enable significant new wind generation to help Iowa reach important renewable energy goals. ITC Midwest and MidAmerican Energy are have plans for north-central Iowa and Clean Line Energy Partners is proposing a line from northwest Iowa into Illinois.
While these transmission proposals offer the environmental benefit of more wind generation, siting and construction of the lines themselves can have environmental impacts. So far, many portions of the MidAmerican and ITC Midwest transmission plans involve upgrading existing lines, which will not require additional land use. In some instances, however, no transmission lines currently exist and a new right of way is needed.
The land use in this part of the state is primarily in row crop agriculture, so transmission and additional wind are often very compatible. However, this also means that the remaining environmentally sensitive lands are very important to preserve. Doing so is not easy, since no comprehensive inventory of ecologically sensitive land under private ownership exists.
Right from the start of the planning and construction process, the Council has been working to minimize any risks by engaging transmission developers with environment and conservation stakeholders. With open lines of communication, we believe it is possible to make necessary upgrades to the electric grid and also important habitat and open spaces.