Iowa Wind Farm Expansion Planned

MidAmerican Energy Co. is proposing to expand the wind farm it is building in Iowa -- a project that already is one of the largest on land.

Jan. 25--MidAmerican Energy Co. is proposing to expand the wind farm it is building in Iowa -- a project that already is one of the largest on land.

The expansion is being timed so that the utility can take advantage of federal tax credits that expire in December. State approval of the expansion should come in the next couple of weeks.

With the expansion, the wind project would grow by 50 megawatts, said Tom Budler, wind project manager. Construction cost would grow by about $63 million.

The expansion would enlarge the original 310.5-megawatt project by about 16 percent. The final bill is projected to be around $386 million.

Budler said MidAmerican would expand at its existing sites in northern Iowa. Windmills to produce 15 of the additional megawatts would be installed southwest of Storm Lake along U.S. Highway 20. Windmills producing 35 megawatts would be installed near Blairsburg.

The utility initially applied to enlarge the project by 30 to 90 megawatts. Budler said the utility settled on 50 megawatts because that better matched transmission capability and the availability of good spots to build windmills.

State regulators have taken steps indicating that approval of the expansion is probable.

Key among those is an agreement between John Perkins, Iowa's consumer advocate, and MidAmerican over the terms of the project. The expansion would be handled in a fashion similar to the original project, Perkins said. Plans filed with the state would limit stockholders to a 12.2 percent return.

Chuck Seel, spokesman for the Iowa Utilities Board, said the board is expected to decide on the expansion in the next couple of weeks.

No opposition has been voiced.

In December, MidAmerican began generating electricity from half of the existing project. The rest is to be completed by December.

With the project, 9.4 percent of MidAmerican's electricity would come from renewable energy.

Private utilities nationwide are rushing to build wind farms this year. A federal tax credit that was revived late last year will no longer be available after December. The credit discounts the taxes that utilities pay for the first 10 years of a wind farm's operation.

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© 2005, Omaha World-Herald, Neb. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.