By By Donnelle Eller and Jason Noble, Des Moines Register
GETTING THE OK: The Iowa Utilities Board on Monday approved MidAmerican Energy’s five-year energy efficiency plan, savings that could equal the electricity used by 146,000 homes and natural gas consumed by nearly 51,000 homes, the Des Moines-based company said.
AMOUNT INVESTED: The plan calls for investing more than $500 million in energy efficiency programs through 2018, an increase of over $100 million over the previous program. The money will be used to promote energy efficiency through outreach and education, technical assistance, and customer rebates to reduce energy use over the plan period. The programs help customers lower monthly bills and help the environment.
PUSHING HIGHER GOALS: The Iowa Environmental Council, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Iowa Policy Project pushed MidAmerican to “provide its customers with significantly higher energy efficiency savings targets,” the order says, while minimizing the impact on ratepayers.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO? MidAmerican said more than 80 percent of the budget will be returned to customers in rebates and technical assistance to encourage the purchase and installation of energy-efficient appliances and equipment. The remaining funds are used to generate awareness for energy-efficiency programs through outreach and education in addition to annual tree-planting programs, the utility said. MidAmerican Energy’s plan to build 448 wind turbines in Iowa has created the world’s largest order for onshore wind turbines, says the utility and Siemens, the company that will provide the equipment. MidAmerican plans to complete five Iowa wind energy projects by 2015, an expansion that will cost $1.9 billion.
The Des Moines-based power company will create a total of 1,050 megawatts of energy, enough power for 317,000 U.S. households, the company said. The project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs over two years and add 40 permanent jobs.
The companies marked the milestone Monday with Gov. Terry Branstad in Fort Madison, where Siemens has a blade factory. Siemens will produce the nacelles at its Hutchinson, Kan., facility. MidAmerican announced last month that Siemens would supply the blades, nacelles and tower sections. At the statehouse, Branstad told reporters that MidAmerican’s wind expansion is bringing much-needed jobs. Branstad noted that Lee County’s unemployment rate has declined to 6.4 percent from 10.9 percent when he took office. “As a leader in wind generation, we welcome the opportunity to expand renewable energy,” he said.
Bill Fehrman, MidAmerican’s CEO, said production tax credits are key to the company’s wind projects. The federal tax credits are slated to end Dec. 31. “We’re continuing to work with our congressional delegations and others to try and continue that credit going forward,” Fehrman said at the news conference with Branstad. “It’s not clear where exactly that may stand, but clearly with regard to these projects, the benefit of the tax credit was very crucial to our decision to move forward with this project.”
“We’re excited to do more,” said Fehrman later in the day, noting that the wind expansion will return $10 million to customers annually. “This announcement means jobs for our highly skilled workforce, and demonstrates the continued strengthening and competitiveness of Iowa manufacturing,” said U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, an Iowa Democrat, in Fort Madison. “We have to go back in January and fight like heck to at least get the production tax credit renewed for another year.”
Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat, said wind energy “again shows its job-creating potential. Yet Washington fails to take notice.” Branstad said the production tax credit needs to be continued “at least for some time."
"The cost of generating through wind continues to go down. The cost of generating by coal has become very expensive and more difficult. So we continue to see an opportunity in the future for wind energy,” the governor said.
Siemens said the order will support 800 existing jobs in Fort Madison. MidAmerican’s Fehrman said the company plans to bring 506 megawatts online in 2014 and 500 megawatts online in 2015. Already, 44 megawatts have been added at the company’s existing wind farm in Marshall County.
Iowa ranked third in the nation last year for wind energy generation. In 2012, around 24 percent of total power generation in the state was provided by wind. Siemens says it has already installed 1.2 gigawatts of wind power capacity for MidAmerican Energy to date. Including this new order, these wind projects will provide around 660,000 American households with eco-friendly power when they are completed in 2015.
Register reporter Jason Noble contributed to this report.