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A breezy alternative

"By itself, it cannot be the solution because wind by its nature is an intermittent source of power," said Bill Haman, industrial program manager and alternate energy revolving loan program manager for the Iowa Energy Center. "Therefore we as a society cannot rely on wind as our primary energy source, but it certainly can play a part as a piece of the solution when combined with both fossil and renewable sources."

Generating energy from wind has always faced one major problem: reliability.

The variation in wind speed - it can be negligible on days when energy needs are great - has made it difficult to rely on wind for more than a small portion of Iowa's energy needs.

However, over the past two years, wind energy projects in the state have boomed, spurred on by enticing federal and state tax incentives. This growth has made Iowa the third-highest generator of wind energy in the nation, with a total capacity of 936 megawatts. Now a project in Central Iowa could be the first to make wind a more reliable - and valuable - alternative energy source.

"By itself, it cannot be the solution because wind by its nature is an intermittent source of power," said Bill Haman, industrial program manager and alternate energy revolving loan program manager for the Iowa Energy Center. "Therefore we as a society cannot rely on wind as our primary energy source, but it certainly can play a part as a piece of the solution when combined with both fossil and renewable sources."

A viable solution

The Iowa Stored Energy Park, a joint project by utilities in Iowa and neighboring states, is in an... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Generating energy from wind has always faced one major problem: reliability.

The variation in wind speed - it can be negligible on days when energy needs are great - has made it difficult to rely on wind for more than a small portion of Iowa's energy needs.

However, over the past two years, wind energy projects in the state have boomed, spurred on by enticing federal and state tax incentives. This growth has made Iowa the third-highest generator of wind energy in the nation, with a total capacity of 936 megawatts. Now a project in Central Iowa could be the first to make wind a more reliable - and valuable - alternative energy source.

"By itself, it cannot be the solution because wind by its nature is an intermittent source of power," said Bill Haman, industrial program manager and alternate energy revolving loan program manager for the Iowa Energy Center. "Therefore we as a society cannot rely on wind as our primary energy source, but it certainly can play a part as a piece of the solution when combined with both fossil and renewable sources."

A viable solution

The Iowa Stored Energy Park, a joint project by utilities in Iowa and neighboring states, is in an initial planning phase near Dallas Center. It could use wind to generate 286 megawatts of energy to be used during periods of peak power demand.

The compressed-air energy storage system would use wind power from wind farms nearby to compress and store air in an aquifer about 3,000 feet underground. When energy is needed, the stored air will be released with natural gas - about a third of what would be needed in a typical natural gas power generation plant - to power combustion turbines.

"Probably the biggest aspect of it is that it makes the energy from wind turbines more dispatchable," said Kent Holst, development director of the ISEP. "We will collect energy from wind whenever it's blowing and store it, and we can bring that energy back out of the ground and produce electricity when we want."

The plant is designed to be an intermediate energy source (it will run 20 to 50 percent of the time) to main plants that run almost continually, such as coal. Although natural gas has been stored in the ground for electricity generation purposes for several decades, only two other projects in the world have tried compressed air. They're located in Alabama and Germany. But this project is different, because it will use wind to power the air compression rather than coal or other energy sources.

The compressed-air energy storage system will be able to better control the amount of electricity generated from wind than if a wind turbine is connected directly to a transmission line. The plant also would be able to fire up in a few minutes when more energy is needed; a coal-fueled plant can take hours to fire up.

Bob Haug, executive director of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, said the plant would allow utilities to better predict the amount of wind energy that can be produced. "That's really valuable," he said, "because currently wind energy is just variable. It can't be counted on. ... This makes wind a firm energy source, therefore much more valuable to the market."

The project team is still analyzing the aquifer near Dallas Center, but Holst said the team is "getting increasingly confident that it's going to be satisfactory." The participants still need to purchase the land and develop a detailed design. The project is expected to be complete by 2011, but Holst said that could be a little optimistic.


Though the cost to complete the project is steep - about $200 million - experts say it is the most economical for an intermediate energy source. The municipal utilities interested in the project met last week, Haug said, to discuss funding.

"It's a big deal for municipal utilities to bite off and we're confident it will happen, but it takes some time to get enough understanding on the parts of local boards and councils so they're satisfied that a commitment on behalf of their citizens is one that's worthwhile," he said.

Several utilities have already funded about $1 million for research on the feasibility of the plant. In addition, the project has received $3.5 million in research grants from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Being the first of its kind, Haman said, this project "deserves to be watched very closely to see how well it works." He added that it could be duplicated in other areas of the world, but that depends on certain underground geological formations for it to happen.

Economic generator

The stored energy project could help support the major growth in wind farms Iowa has experienced over the past couple years, particularly from major investors including MidAmerican Energy Co., Alliant Energy Corp. and Florida Power and Light Co. Nationally, wind power generating capacity increased 27 percent last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and is forecast to grow 26 percent this year.

MidAmerican Energy has become the No. 1 owner of wind-powered electric generation plants among rate-regulated utilities in the nation, with 695.5 megawatts of wind energy facilities in operation, under construction and under contract in Iowa. It will complete a 123-megawatt wind energy facility in Pocahontas this year.

Allan Urlis, a spokesperson for the company, said MidAmerican Energy began to develop wind energy after Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2002 challenged utility companies, business leaders and regulators to have 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy in Iowa by 2010.

Iowa's 136 municipal utilities also have been interested in wind power as a way to solve their growing energy needs and with the expectation that the government will require them to obtain a percentage of their energy from renewable sources in the near future.

"It's the lowest-cost renewable energy source we have right now," Haug said.

A study looking at sites where utilities could install wind turbines to gain the most power has led to commitments from 52 Iowa municipalities and joint action agencies (groups of municipalities) to construct more than 100 megawatts of wind-powered generation capacity in the future. Haug said the interest is higher than the 75 to 100 megawatts they expected, causing them to search for other sites beyond the one they've secured in Central Iowa to complete the project. Part of this wind energy development will support the stored energy project.

In addition to wind energy development, several wind turbine manufacturers have opened or plan to open plants in Iowa.

Siemens Power Generation Inc.'s plant in Fort Madison is near completion and has reached about one-third its full staffing level. When finished, it will employ 250 people, mostly in production and maintenance positions. Clipper Windpower Inc. has already opened a plant in Cedar Rapids and Acciona Energia of Spain announced earlier this year that it will open a plant in West Branch.

"The upper Midwest is often referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind power," Haman said, "so it only makes sense if this market is going to be developed, to make the products where they're going to be used."

This kind of development in the state has encouraged colleges and universities in Iowa to look at programs that can train people in the construction, maintenance and business development of wind energy.

Iowa Lakes Community College started the first such program in Iowa in the fall of 2004, which focuses on training wind turbine technicians. The program has grown from 15 students in its first year to about 50, and now Al Zeitz, the program founder, is working on expanding the program to include degrees in business development and construction.

Graduates of the two-year program receive an associate of applied science degree and find jobs worldwide with wages ranging from $15 to $22 an hour.

"We've been getting phone calls from colleges across the country, even internationally, asking for help developing programs similar to ours," Zeitz said.

The University of Iowa is developing focus programs for students in industrial and mechanical engineering that will look into issues such as managing wind power generation through development of more efficient wind-turbine blades, or creating a sensor network that forecasts weather changes.

The faculty approved a curriculum for a master's degree program that focuses on wind energy last fall, said professor Lea-Der Chen, the mechanical and industrial engineering departmental executive officer.

Having wind turbine manufacturing plants open in the state has also provided a new opportunity for corporate relations, said Fred Streicher, director of marketing and communications for the University of Iowa College of Engineering, who also handles corporate relations.

The college has forged a relationship with Clipper Windpower, which has hired a couple of students at its Cedar Rapids plant and could lead to faculty and student projects with the company, sponsored research and guest lectures from company executives down the road, Streicher said.

"We're listening very carefully to companies locating here and what their needs are," he said.

Despite this economic development, Haug points out that wind will not be as lucrative as other renewable fuel sources. "The biofuels offer a lot more to Iowans because it impacts the farm economy so greatly," he said.

Continued growth?

Though the corn in Bill Sutton's 1,600 acres will produce more money than his wind turbines this year, he said wind energy will offer him a stable source of income in years to come. He is involved with the development of a seven-turbine wind farm called the Hardin Hilltop Wind Project, located north of Jefferson.

However, without incentives from the state and federal governments and a no-interest loan from the Iowa Energy Center, Sutton said he could not afford to move forward, especially with each turbine costing around $3 million.

When tax credits became available in Iowa in 2005, Haman said there was an explosion of wind energy projects, which exhausted the available credits in a matter of weeks.

Iowa's incentives provide tax credits of 1 cent to 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for wind projects in addition to a federal incentive of 1.9 cents. In 2006, the Iowa Legislature expanded the limits of the incentives, but experts say there has been no discussion about doing the same this year, even though the program is at capacity. The federal production tax credits will end in 2007 if it's not extended.

The Iowa Energy Center also administers an alternate energy revolving loan program, which offers zero-percent financing of up to $250,000 for any renewable-energy project. Of the $10.2 million given through the program since it started in 1996, 52 percent has gone to large wind farms and 14 percent to small wind projects.

If these kinds of incentives, especially the state's tax credits, are not extended, Haman predicts wind energy production growth could slow down tremendously.

MidAmerican Energy President Todd Raba testified in front of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee at the end of March, recommending a 10-year extension of the federal tax incentives. Without this extension, Urlis said it could "harm long-term planning of building additional wind projects."

One bill (Senate File 355) in the Iowa Legislature could support community-based wind energy projects in the future if passed, said Sutton, by structuring power purchase agreements in a way that would more easily allow development of these projects. The bill is in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The need for higher-capacity transmission lines could also hinder growth in the future, Haman said, and he predicts the state eventually will need to invest in updating infrastructure. But the real issue, he points out, is energy consumption.

"It seems like there's a lot more focus on building facilities that make energy," he said, "whether it's ethanol or wind farms or even coal-power plants, and I don't see the same kind of focus or incentives put on trying to reduce the amount of energy that we consume in our homes and businesses."

 



Source: http://www.businessrecord.c...

APR 15 2007
https://www.windaction.org/posts/8315-a-breezy-alternative
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