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Iowa Catches Wind to Boost State's Energy Supply


As the price of energy increases and the environmental effects of burning fossil fuels become more apparent, utility companies around the country are looking to alternative energy to generate at least part of their electricity. One place where such a program is moving forward quickly is the Midwestern state of Iowa. VOA's Greg Flakus has more in this report from Des Moines.

Among the many attractions at this year's Iowa State Fair was a structure on a small hill in the middle of the fair ground that provided some of the electrical power consumed there.

The wind turbine operated by MidAmerican Energy served both as a source of energy and an educational exhibit to show fairgoers how the state is utilizing alternative energy to lessen air pollution and reduce use of fossil fuels like coal.

That idea appeals to many Iowans, including this farmer who wanted to know how he could participate in the program.

"We don't have to dig up any extra coal or natural gas," he said. "Basically, the wind is a free substance, but it does not blow all the time."

In fact, many farmers around the state already have wind turbines operating on their land, producing electricity that goes into the statewide grid.

Although the turbine installed on the fair grounds is close to 40 meters high, it is half the size of the standard turbines used in rural areas. Still MidAmerican spokesman Allan Urlis says it is producing a significant amount of electricity.

"We are talking about all the electricity that is used during the 11 days of the state fair," said Allan Urlis. "That is how much electricity this wind turbine produces in a year's time."

Many Iowans visiting the MidAmerican visitors' center at the fair were surprised that their state has gone so far in developing this resource since it is far from the windiest state, but Urlis says the state has a strong commitment to develop alternative energy.

"Iowa is number ten in the country in the amount of wind resources we have, behind nine other states, but when it comes to the amount of wind-energy electric generation, Iowa is number three, behind Texas and California," he said.

Wind currently produces 460 megawatts of power for MidAmerican in Iowa. Because windy conditions come and go, Iowa cannot rely exclusively on wind generation, but Allan Urlis says planned expansion of the system will cut use of coal and benefit the environment.

"When we finish the plans that we have, to have almost 1,000 megawatts of wind energy by next year, that is the equivalent to removing the emissions that are placed in the atmosphere by 682,000 cars in the state of Iowa in a year's time," said Urlis.

The wind mills, which often stand in rows, are viewed by many as graceful visual attractions in the countryside, their huge white blades moving slowly above the green fields. Urlis says most farmers who have signed contracts to allow turbines to be placed on their land are quite satisfied.

"It is a win-win for landowners," he said. "They get an annual easement payment for the wind turbine plus they can still farm the ground virtually right up to the base of those turbines."

With planned expansion, the huge white turbines could soon become a common sight in corn fields and pastures all over Iowa.

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