SANBORN, Iowa — The wind industry has blown up in Iowa over the last two decades, but nowhere near as much as in O’Brien County.
No other county in Iowa — the nation’s second leading wind producer, trailing only Texas — generates as much energy from the wind as O’Brien, which thanks to two recently completed wind farm projects has a production capacity of 752 megawatts.
Those two wind farms generate enough electricity to power 225,000 Iowa homes, according to MidAmerican Energy Co., the Des Moines-based utility behind the mega projects.
Scott Cobb, project manager of wind development for MidAmerican, noted how important that area is to the company and how the relationship is symbiotic.
“Northwest Iowa residents know O’Brien County has excellent wind resources blowing through that part of the state,” he said. “The area also has a good electric transmission system that supports the delivery of wind to customers across the state. Our investment in wind has been good for our customers, the environment and good for the economy in O’Brien County and the state of Iowa."
The O’Brien Wind Energy Project, the more recent of the county’s two wind farms, was commissioned in December. The wind farm is comprised of 104 wind turbines capable of producing 250-megawatts of power.
Most of the heavy construction required to build the the O’Brien Wind Energy Project was completed in about seven months, a feat Cobb attributed to the Mortenson construction crews familiarity with the area.
Mortensen is the same firm that build the Highland Wind Energy Project, MidAmerican’s first O'Brien wind farm. The Highland project, completed in December 2015, is the state's largest individual wind farm, comprised of 214 turbines capable of producing 502 megawatts of energy.
The new crop of turbines have changed the landscape in the northern half of O’Brien, particularly along Highway 18 where a number of the 263-foot tall devices stand out among the rolling farm fields.
MidAmerican considered the O’Brien Wind Energy Project to be part of its Wind X project, construction of which started in spring 2016 and included a 301 megawatt farm in Ida County, which is two counties south of O’Brien County.
According to MidAmerican, the Wind X project will provide more than $115 million in landowner payments and more than $160 million in property tax revenues over the next 30 years in Ida Grove and O’Brien counties.
In O'Brien County alone, Cobb noted MidAmerican will pay $221 million in property taxes from 2017 through 2046, with $145 million of that being generated from the Highland wind farm and the remaining $67 coming from the O'Brien farm.
He said those funds will strengthen the community since they support schools, county roads, public safety and other public services.
“We also pay millions of dollars annually to landowners through lease payments," he said. "This is revenue flowing into O’Brien County that can increase spending at local businesses.”
In addition to having both wind farms operations, MidAmerican also completed construction of a 120-mile long high voltage line that spans through Clay, Humboldt, Kossuth, O’Brien, Palo Alto and Webster in Iowa’s northwest corner.
This project was done to better the utility’s energy grid and support the additional wind-generated energy coming from the region.
The completion of these projects was a huge boon for the MidAmerican, which has an eventual goal of generating all of its power through renewable means.
“By 2020, we expect to generate renewable energy nearing 90 percent of our retail load,” Cobb said. “We are always evaluating renewable energy technologies that could be used to help us close the remaining gap, but we don’t have a specific target date.
“We believe we are the first company in the United States turning the corner in the transition to sustainable energy production and working to achieve full energy independence,” he continued. “MidAmerican Energy is uniquely positioned and qualified to deliver this for Iowa.”