MidAmerican Energy pours $3.6B more into wind
MidAmerican Energy took a giant, $3.6 billion step Thursday toward its goal of meeting all of its customers’ power needs with green energy such as wind and solar.
With the investment, the Des Moines utility’s largest, MidAmerican would get 85 percent of its energy from wind, CEO Bill Fehrman said Thursday at a press conference with Gov. Terry Branstad and Debi Durham, the state’s economic development director.
“We have a dream to deliver 100 percent renewable energy to our customers,” Fehrman said.
Officials with the Des Moines utility, already the nation’s largest rate-regulated owner of wind energy, said the project would add up to 2,000 megawatts of wind generation.
The project, called Wind XI, won’t increase consumers’ energy bills, thanks largely to federal production tax credits that would cover the project’s cost over 10 years, Fehrman said.
“For customers, the benefits are clear: clean energy produced right here in Iowa using an abundant natural resource,” Fehrman said. “Unlike coal or natural gas, renewable energy has no fuel costs associated with it. Harnessing the wind is free.”
MidAmerican serves 752,000 electrical customers and 733,000 natural gas customers in Iowa, Illinois and South Dakota.
MidAmerican’s announcement received resounding approval across the board, including from U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Rep. Dave Loebsack, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and state and national environmental groups.
Nathaniel Baer, energy program director at the Iowa Environmental Council, said the announcement sets the renewable energy bar higher for other Iowa and Midwest power suppliers.
“Making 100 percent renewable energy a goal starts a new discussion about how to get there. It’s an important new direction,” Baer said. “It recognizes that the renewable energy sources we have in Iowa are tremendous.”
The request must go to the Iowa Utilities Board for consideration. The company hopes to get board approval by mid-September.
The project, with about 1,000 turbines, wouldn’t be completely constructed until 2019. The turbines’ location is still under consideration.
Fehrman said the utility’s shift to wind has been dramatic since 2004, the first time it invested in wind energy generation.
“We didn’t have any wind in our system, and coal made up 70 percent of our generation,” Fehrman said. “By the end of this year, we will have built 4,048 megawatts of wind energy across 2,020 turbines.”
The company has spent $6.6 billion on wind generation over the past 12 years. It will get close to 60 percent of its energy from wind by year’s end.
Even with 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources, Fehrman said the investor-owned utility has no plans to retire its coal and natural gas plants.
“During times when the wind isn’t blowing — or isn’t blowing enough — our coal plants, gas plants will be picking up the slack,” Fehrman said
He said the company wants to to generate as much wind energy as its customers use annually.
“We will be able to certify to our customers that at least on an annual basis — not a minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour basis — we were able to deliver to you 85 percent of energy from renewable power.
“And hopefully we’ll get to 100 percent some time down the road,” said Fehrman, adding that the utility will look to solar, energy efficiency, biomass and other sources to reach its goal.