(Clarinda) — Experts on a number of topics related to wind energy weighed in on further development in southwest Iowa in a special forum Tuesday afternoon.
Organized by the group Power Up Iowa — which advocates for local, state and federal policies that bring wind energy investment into Iowa — the forum was held in conjunction with the Page County Board of Supervisors and was moderated by board chair Chuck Morris. Bob Ramaekers is Vice President of Tenaska, a private, independent energy company based in Omaha. He says the industry’s goal is to work with landowners, not infringe on property rights when it comes to wind development.
"From Tenaska's perspective -- and I think this is typical of other developers -- we respect property rights and we respect the landowners," said Ramaekers. "There's questions of eminent domain. We don't have the right of eminent domain. We don't want it. We don't need it. Our way of working since we were founded is to work with landowners and local leaders to develop projects that are mutually beneficial. It's purely voluntary."
Gabe Klooster is Manager of Renewable Development for Invenergy LLC, and he says he tries to work with landowners on specific requests when assessing potential turbine locations.
"Having a solid amount of communication between our land agents and our landowners, we're very open to any specific concerns that folks might have," said Klooster. "I always want to know, are there areas in the land that the landowners want to avoid? Is there a tree that they just want to make absolutely certain we stay away from. Those are the types of things that we're open to hearing and doing our best to avoid in the planning practices."
A large portion of the forum dealt with the potential economic benefits of wind development. Brian Selinger is Director of the Iowa Energy Office — a department of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. He says having renewable energy is a tool used to lure new business developments in Iowa.
"Businesses have to worry about cost and they're going to look towards and they want low-cost energy, but more and more and more they are going to want to see and want to know that their energy is coming from a renewable energy source," said Selinger. "Iowa has that strategic advantage. There are states that would love to have our resources. We're seeing these companies that want access to reliable, low-cost energy."
Randy Caviness farms in Adair County, which has seen significant wind development. He says the impact on the county’s coffers was noticeable.
"We're already starting to see good things on our roads and bridges and county budget," said Caviness. "It sure helped us build a new jail a few years. We were going to have to export our prisoners out. Instead of having law enforcement, we were going to have a taxi for prisoners. That made a big difference on that, so public safety was impacted immediately, plus we're saving money on our energy costs with some of the local development that we have."
Bill Menner is Executive Director of the Iowa Rural Development Council and is the former USDA Rural State Director in Iowa. He pointed to Mitchell County in north-central Iowa as a good place to see the successes of wind development.
"The valuation is $120 million and 17% of all the taxable valuation in the county," said Menner. "They are the largest taxpayer. There is $2 million in new revenue every year coming into the county. They just built a new courthouse and didn't have to raise taxes. You can learn from those other counties, see what's working, see what's not, what's good, what's bad and make an informed decision."
In terms of population retention, the panel concluded that wind energy could help keep more people in rural parts of the state. Matthew Mancuso is Academic Dean of Industrial Tech Programs for Iowa Western Community College. He says they have a significant number of students from southwest Iowa in their industrial wind technology program, but many of them are having to leave the area to find work.
"We have sent quite a few individuals to Walnut and the Adair wind farms, but we find most of them are actually traveling as of recent up into northeast Nebraska and southern South Dakota," said Mancuso. "We just had a few who graduated last fall and went up to Minnesota. I know these students personally and I know what they want. Most of them do want to live and work where they lived and grew up."
The forum was organized by the board as a way to present information from the pro-wind development side following a public meeting in Clarinda in August and several public comments at previous board meetings. Video of the full forum can be found here.