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Schools at the Forefront of Iowa Wind Story

Schools at the Forefront of Iowa Wind Story

Date: 3/9/2010

Location: IA

Source: Stacia Cudd, National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service

Audio with Tom Wind, Wind Utility Consultant (MP3 2.3 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:02:25.

The state of Iowa has long been a leader in the area of wind energy development. But Wind Utility Consultant Tom Wind says it all started nearly two decades ago with a school administrator.

"It was the school at Spirit Lake, Iowa, the northern part of Iowa, where the Superintendent up there wanted to install a modest sized wind turbine. It was about 250 kilowatts. And he had quite a battle to get that installed."

Wind says it worked because Iowa has always had very supportive state policies that encouraged schools to install wind turbines — and allowed schools to make that investment in wind with confidence.

"The primary policy is one we call net metering or net billing. And that allows a school that installs a wind turbine to bank the extra kilowatt hours that a wind turbine generates at night, when the school may not need that power. Those extra kilowatt hours go back into the grid, but the school gets credit for those kilowatt hours at the full retail price, so that during the day when the wind doesn't blow, the school can take those kilowatt hours back and not have to buy them from the utility. So that net metering process really is very beneficial to the economics of a wind turbine."

According to Wind, the state of Iowa also has a fund for wind turbine investment and engineers on staff at the state level who can help schools make wise decisions.

After that first school moved forward, some additional schools did follow suit. But, Wind says, it took another seven years for utilities to agree to buy power from Iowa wind farms and for Iowans and utilities to begin to embrace the idea of generating electricity from wind.

"The larger utilities were starting to recognize that there are some benefits to wind generation here. It's pollution free, it's a long-term stable cost of electricity, and so they started to invest in it. But it wasn't until the mid-2000s that it really took off. That was when MidAmerican Energy, based in Des Moines, really embraced wind power whole-heartedly and agreed that it was in the long-term best interest of everybody involved — the electric customers, the investors, and the environment — to make big investments in wind power."

That, Wind says, propelled Iowa ahead to where it is today — one of the top three states in wind power capacity.

This information was last updated on March 09, 2010