Iowa’s amazingly successful development of wind power is facing significant threats from mushrooming local opposition. While the forces opposing wind power remain relatively small, they seem to be increasing in numbers. The reasons cited by these new anti-wind opponents range from simple aesthetics to health risks. Some are opposing new wind turbine construction by complaining that they are an eyesore. They object to turbines that restrict or impair the view from their homes.
Other opponents are citing health risks, damage to farmland, lower property values and bird kills. If the opposition to wind power continues to grow, it has the potential to derail Iowa’s leadership path to a 100% renewable future. It is imperative that wind power advocates answer the concerns and criticisms being raised or Iowa could face severe restrictions or outright bans on the future growth of wind energy.
Wind power has provided huge benefits to all of Iowa but especially in boosting rural development. It has produced 9,000 jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue and millions of dollars in direct income to landowners.
MidAmerican Energy has invested over $10 billion in building wind energy projects since 2004. They’ve paid over $65 million in taxes to Iowa counties. The largest number of wind turbines in Iowa is in O’Brien County. There are 318 turbines producing $7.3 million in tax revenue to the county. Many of these rural counties have suffered from declining population and stagnant growth. Wind energy projects have assisted these counties by boosting employment and pumped millions of dollars into their local economies.
Wind power has also provided the most efficient and inexpensive alternative to the use of fossil fuels. Electric rates in Iowa are lower than they were 20 years ago before wind power existed. Renewable wind-powered electric generation as an alternative to fossil fuels is unquestionably an effective solution to climate change. Nationally in 2013, wind power prevented the release of 132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would have resulted from burning fossil fuels.
MidAmerican CEO Bill Fehrman compares the clean and green energy from wind versus the much worse environmental impacts from burning fossil fuels as alternative energy sources.
“There’s no perfect way to make electricity,” Fehrman said, adding that coal, natural gas and hydro-electric plants all come with costs and environmental challenges. “We figure out the energy resource that has the lowest impact on the environment, lowest impact on customers and the lowest costs,” he said. “The vast majority of people who live in these rural areas — when they see the opportunities with jobs, investment and taxes — want the projects.”
According to the Iowa Wind Energy Association, 92% of Iowans are either positive or neutral in support of increasing wind power projects. Only, 8% of Iowans have negative opinions about wind power. However, this minority is getting very vocal in their opposition to expanding wind power projects.
In August a group of Madison County residents, the Madison County Coalition for Scenic Preservation, joined in opposing a new MidAmerican wind project in their county. A larger group, the Coalition for Rural Property Rights, has a mission statement to, “protecting our Iowa and Minnesota homes and businesses, helping educate landowners about the negative sides of industrial wind energy installations.”
Iowa wind advocates must be prepared to defend further wind expansion from this growing opposition. Admittedly, the opponents raise issues that must be addressed but preventing further growth of clean wind energy sources isn’t the answer. Weighing all the advantages of wind energy, the benefits far outweigh any inconvenience created for neighbors.
by Rick Smith