Utilities gives approval to MidAmerican 1 GW wind energy plan in Iowa

MidAmerican already produces around 1,350 megawatts of wind power, so Lynch says this would increase their capacity by about 40%. Iowa is the second largest wind energy producer behind Texas. The utility is owned by billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway holding group.

NextEra Energy of Florida sought to block the proposal, saying it would give MidAmerican a dominant position in wind energy in the state. Together, MidAmerican and NextEra control about 70% of Iowa’s wind energy capacity. MidAmerican has approximately 1,400 MW of wind online, while NextEra has about 800 MW.

The board made its unanimous decision after deliberating all day in closed session, which Chairman Rob Berntsen said was done to protect confidential company information on both sides.

Utilities Board lawyer David Lynch, says the board did not agree. Lynch says the board found “the market’s a lot bigger than even this project, there’s a lot more wind out there.” He says if the wind projects make sense they will happen. Lynch says since it will take a couple years for MidAmerican to get the project built, they will be required to give an update on the market situation so that no problem develops.

Location of the proposed wind farms has not been decided, according to the utility, which serves about 634,000 retail customers in Iowa. About 400 wind turbines likely would be needed for the full capacity.

The MidAmerican project has been seen as a likely platform for a proposed new transmission line that would traverse the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and into Illinois to carry the excess wind capacity to Chicago and other urban areas.

The MidAmerican Energy proposal is the largest of 68 projects in Iowa – with a capacity of almost 12,000 megawatts of wind energy – waiting to connect to the power grid. The projects have been submitted to the Midwest Independent System Operator, the consortium of utilities, generators and transmission operators that oversees the electricity transmission grid and wholesale electricity markets over a 13-state network.

When MidAmerican Energy announced plans to develop a 360.5-megawatt wind energy facility, located on two sites in northwest and north central Iowa, MidAmerican’s environmental services group worked with the state of Iowa and several environmental groups – such as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy, Iowa State University, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club – to identify areas off limits for development due to specific characteristics that attract birds.

The group created a state-wide map of the areas with known bird populations or habitats, referred to by the environmental community as areas of concern. MidAmerican consciously avoided these areas once the site planning was underway.

MidAmerican also reviewed the United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Services’ Interim Guidance on Avoiding and Minimizing Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines, and MidAmerican used those guidelines with turbine vendors, engineering services and construction contractors.

In addition, MidAmerican worked with the Army Corp of Engineers to secure the appropriate permits for potential risks to disturbing any identified wetlands.

The facility is one of the largest land-based wind projects in the world, and regular inspections are conducted to ensure there are no adverse environmental impacts.

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