PRIMGHAR, Iowa | MidAmerican Energy announced in October it will install more wind turbines in O'Brien County, where the state's largest utility launched a major project in 2013.
Coupled with the development of a new wind farm in Adams County, MidAmerican said it also would add another $280 million to its investment in wind energy in Iowa. The company did not break down the expenditure by county but said the majority would be in Adams in southwest Iowa.
The company’s wind project would add up to 162 megawatts of new wind generation capacity in Iowa when it is completed by the end of this year, said Bill Fehrman, president and CEO of MidAmerican Energy.
An additional 7 megawatts is planned in O'Brien County, where MidAmerican broke ground on a 500-megawatt wind farm near the O'Brien County seat of Primghar. Billed as the largest single wind energy site in Iowa history, the original site called for 218 wind turbines spread out over 70,000 acres.
Dubbed the Highland Wind Energy project, it was part of a $1.9 billion expansion of Iowa's wind generating capacity that the Des Moines utility announced in 2013. The largest investment in state history, it included 448 wind turbines for five Iowa wind projects that would generate 1,000 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs.
The latest expansion includes 67 more Iowa-made turbines at the O'Brien and Adams county sites, enabling the company to provide wind-powered electricity to more than 1 million Iowa homes.
Fehrman said in October the expansion will result in an additional 200 construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs.
“With this proposed expansion, beginning in 2016, MidAmerican Energy’s wind resources are expected to produce an amount of energy equivalent to approximately 50 percent of the retail energy customers are expected to need,” Fehrman said.
“These wind projects help stabilize rates in the long term for our customers, foster economic development in Iowa communities and demonstrate MidAmerican Energy’s commitment to the environment,” he added.
Fehrman said his company is working with county officials and landowners to secure development and interconnection rights for the project sites, which are expected to provide more than $40 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years along with annual landowner payments.
O'Brien County's vast wind resource has lured a bevy of companies that are moving ahead with large-scale projects that would harness and export the renewable energy to more populated regions.
The undertakings are projected to spur hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and create thousands of temporary construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs, as well as fill local tax coffers and grow communities that have seen an exodus in population in recent decades.
"It's an economic boom for the county the likes of which we've never seen before," Rodd Holtkamp, a Primghar banker and member of the county economic development board, said last year. "It should eventually put more people in our grocery stores, more people in our churches, more people in our schools."
The foundation work for the Highland turbines started in fall 2013, with the turbines and the more than 650 blades set to go up by the end of 2015.
MidAmerican, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, also was scheduled to begin work late last year on a high-voltage overhead transmission line that will start in northern O'Brien County, near Sanborn, and head east along the Highway 18 corridor into neighboring Clay County. The line is among several so-called “multi-value projects,” or MVPs, designed to alleviate congestion on the region's electric grid and provide a better route for sending Iowa and Minnesota wind power to the east.
The MVP 3 line will serve as a secondary line for the O'Brien County wind farm, which initially will connect to an existing line running diagonally through the county.
Another major high-voltage transmission line, called the Rock Island Clean Line, also is slated to start in O'Brien, just southeast of Sanborn. The 500-mile line will export 3,500 megawatts of wind-generated electricity -- three times more energy than the Hoover Dam -- from Northwest Iowa and bordering states to power-hungry customers in metro Chicago and other large cities to the east.
The developer, Houston-based Clean Line Energy, is awaiting approval from regulators in Iowa and Illinois before going ahead with the direct-current line. The company estimates the line to be in service in 2017 following about two years of construction that would begin as early as next year in O'Brien.
Clean Line projects the $2 billion project will create 2,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs, as well as spur development of 1,000 to 2,000 wind turbines within a 100-mile radius of the county.
At least three other companies are looking to develop wind-related projects in O'Brien but are not as far along in the process as Clean Line and MidAmerican, County Economic Development Director Kiana Johnson said.
California-based Eurus Energy has secured easements from landowners between Highways 60 and 59 for a wind farm called Hawkeye Point. The development is still in the planning stages, said Rich Crawford, a consultant working on the project.
Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, which developed the Highland Wind project and then sold it to MidAmerican last year, is working on a second project at a yet-to-be announced site in O'Brien County, Johnson said.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, the nation's largest electric power utility, in a joint venture with American Transmission Co., is developing transmission lines to move wind-generated power more easily. One route is slated to run through far eastern O'Brien, with construction starting as early as 2016, Johnson said.
Construction on the Rock Island Clean Line and the MidAmerican line and wind farm could overlap beginning this year. At the peak, hundreds, if not thousands, of construction workers could be on site.
Skilled laborers from around the country are expected to flock to the rural county of around 14,000 to fill the temporary jobs.
"We are trying to prepare, but we really don't know what all to expect," Johnson said. "Housing will definitely be an issue for everybody. It will greatly impact all of Northwest Iowa, not just O'Brien County."
When up and running, the wind farms and transmission lines are projected to create hundreds of permanent jobs in the region, mostly in sectors that would support and service the new wind farms, such as makers of towers, blades and other turbine components.
In southeast South Dakota, a $2 billion wind energy project moved to the research phase last year.
The Dakota Power Community Wind Board approved the purchase of a 60-meter tower that will be used to gather data in the design of the wind turbines in southern Lincoln County, near Beresford, board chairman Paul Shubeck said.
The meterological tower, or MET for short, was installed in April. It is equipped with anemometers to measure wind speed and vanes to measure wind direction at several different heights above ground level, according to the company.
“We need to collect two to three years of data before construction can begin,” Schubeck said.
The Dakota Power project would be one of the largest in South Dakota, adding nearly 50 percent to the state’s wind production.
Company officials estimate the total investment at $2 billion. More than 1,000 construction jobs may be created, and in excess of 70 permanent, on-site jobs. Statewide direct economic impacts could be in excess of $200 million.
State gross production annual tax receipts should reach more than $5 million, and the county tax revenues should be near $3 million per year.