Nearly 60% of Iowa’s net electricity generation came from re­­newable resources in 2020, supporting more than 5,000 jobs and delivering substantial economic benefits, a coalition of renewable energy supporters called Power Up Iowa said last week.

“Iowa communities have at­­tracted new businesses, billions in investment, millions in tax revenue and provided stable income sources for our farmers — all because of clean energy,” said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed a proclamation declaring American Clean Power Week in Iowa. 

MidAmerican Energy alone has paid $172 million in landowner easement payments since putting its first wind farm into service in 2004, including $35.7 million last year, said Mike Fehr, the company’s vice president of renewable generation and compliance.

Bill Anderson, executive dir­ector of the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation, said the Glaciers Edge wind farm is generating 

$1.5 million in property tax payments for the county, providing funding for school districts, county and townships.

“As a state, we should be looking to further the things that help our economy grow, and renewable energy is a perfect example,” said Anderson. “Renewable energy is a boon for our county and state, and its growth should be our greatest priority.”  

In 2021, state and local taxes generated by clean power projects across Iowa reached a total of $129.5 million. Meanwhile, capital investment in wind and solar projects reached a total of $21 billion this year. 

With no coal or oil resources in Iowa, the state turned to its plentiful wind resources to boost its energy production over the past two decades, said Tom Wind, a renewable energy consultant. In 2020, 57% of Iowa’s total electricity net generation came from wind, the largest wind power share of any state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Iowa also has the third-highest amount of operational wind, solar and energy storage capacity in the nation.

Venturing into solar

Fehr said MidAmerican is making its first foray into solar energy with plans to have 61 megawatts of solar generation online this year in Iowa. Several other companies have also announced plans for large solar generation projects in the state.

“I doubt Iowa will ever have as much solar as it does wind, just because the wind resource is really good here, but solar can help diversify when renewables are delivered to customers,” Fehr said.

However, he said the pace of renewable energy growth in Iowa could be slowed by lack of transmission capacity. “One of the issues we’re starting to see is that we need more transmission to help further continue that rate of growth,” said Fehr. 

Education opportunities

Several Iowa community colleges have launched programs to train students for high-paying clean power jobs such as wind turbine technicians and solar installers, which are among the fastest-growing jobs in the nation, said Troy McQuillen, vice president of facilities at Kirkwood Community College. 

Kirkwood currently has 24 students in its two-year energy technician training programs, but the job market could probably use three times that many, he said.   

“It’s challenging to keep these students in a degree-seeking program because these jobs are so readily available here,” McQuillen said.