Thursday, January 31, 2008

Iowa's Wind

Although this blog is designed to concentrate on the impacts and realities of ethanol, taking one post to discuss something close to home in my case isn't all that bad. What I'm taking about is Iowa's wind power. Evidently the Northern Plains are ideal in many areas for the generation of power from wind. Below is a map generated by the Department of Energy showing wind speeds across the US. Although Iowa doesn't have the highest average wind speed, it is one of ten states in the nation (shaded by a dark black line) with the potential to generate wind power when factoring in environmental and land use problems.

Although there are plenty of factors that could be problematic with wind power including;

1) Its unreliability to supply a steady stream of power to the grid.

2) Land usage as many wind turbines go up in fields, preventing whole areas from being used in the production of corn or soybeans.

3) Possible water flow problems in the fields arising from wind-turbine placement.

But taken as a whole, I think that wind has the potential to be a complement to ethanol in the nation's push towards divorcing from fossil fuels. Although the argument that wind energy doesn't provide steady power has led some to claim that even with a large wind infrastructure, the necessity for the same capacity of coal power-plants would still exist, the potential for this problem to be solved in the future with sophisticated battery systems could eliminate this problem. The good news is that the Des Moines Register is reporting today that Iowa's largest utility, MidAmerican Energy is in the process of installing hundreds of wind turbines throughout the state this year with the goal of bringing 726 turbines online by year's end. This would add 1,124 megawatts of wind generated power, enough to power 390,000 homes -- close to the total number of people in the Greater Des Moines area (I have to say that because Des Moines won't annex their suburbs so the actual city of Des Moines only has 200,000 residents even though the urban sprall pushes the number up close to half a million).

With this added capacity, MidAmerican claims that 25% of its power will be generated from renewable sources (without drastic increases in utility costs), which will push Iowa even closer to being the renewable energy capital of the US. I for one am hoping that groups continue to work together to improve wind turbines to limit their encroachment into farming and to improve electrical storage methods in the future so that wind might be a more viable form of renewable energy. There, that's my venture into the world of wind energy. Let's hope it works out for Iowa, and for the rest of the United States.

For the article in the Des Moines Register:

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