Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' goal of leading the way in wind and renewable energy was recently contrasted by President Trump’s skepticism of wind energy. That difference highlights a debate that is occurring in Iowa and nationally.
Wind energy is criticized for its unreliability. This would be a valid concern if we were entirely reliant on wind energy. Wind constitutes a hefty 35 percent of Iowa’s current energy production, and trends point to continued expansion. As research continues on ways to store excess production, it will increase even more, but not to the exclusion of all other sources. As an aside, so long as we have the presidential caucuses, we might achieve self-sufficiency were we to capture the hot air emanating from various campaigns.
Wind is criticized for its cost. It is initially costly to construct and erect turbines. However, many of the components for those systems are manufactured relatively close to the sites, producing jobs. More importantly, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Iowa has the seventh lowest retail energy costs in the country.
Wind is criticized for noise and sight pollution. Not everyone likes the sight of wind turbines, but then mines and refining facilities aren’t exactly picturesque. Zoning regulations can mitigate the impact on nearby property owners, and continued research can reduce size and noise.
Finally, wind is criticized for killing wildlife, as the president noted, “as the birds fall to the ground.” This criticism is particularly entertaining, given that so many of those who cite this have no evident interest in wildlife otherwise.
The fact is, more birds die crashing into large buildings or cell towers than die from turbines. How much wildlife dies as a result of mountaintop removal mining or sulfur dioxide or methane emissions? Some of these emissions have only gone down due to regulations on power plants that wind critics tend to oppose.
While on the topic of energy production deaths, let it be noted that Kentucky has had six human deaths so far this year in coal mines. The death rate for wind energy has been estimated at one-fifteenth of one percent of that for coal.
Companies are increasingly looking at cleaner sources of power. It may be the result of a conscious effort to green their portfolio. It may be the result of a public image campaign. The bottom line is that it is happening, and there is nothing wrong with the state looking to meet that demand.
However, it is important for wind energy advocates to keep the first criticism mentioned above in mind. Wind, solar, geothermal and hydro power will not meet all of our needs in the short term. It may even be more difficult as energy consumption increases. In most places, renewables won’t be able to meet all needs without some reduction of use and/or risk of unreliability, certainly in the short term.
More importantly, wind energy critics need to accept that an “all-of-the-above” energy policy requires the pursuit of renewable energy. Coal is only “renewable” when your time frame is millions of years. True renewable energy is readily available, although the sources will vary by region of the country.
We will all need to understand that tradeoffs occur with every choice. Iowans tend to be utilitarian and thrifty. We grow crops and seek to use as much of the material as we can. The company founded by my grandfather-in-law used corn cobs as the base for a kitty litter product. Regarding pork, it is said we capture everything but the squeal.
Wind is a resource we can and should continue to maximize to give us greater self-sufficiency.
Next week: Charese Yanney
A Sioux City resident, Steve Warnstadt is government affairs coordinator for Western Iowa Tech Community College and a former Democratic state senator. He and his wife, Mary, are the parents of one son and one daughter.