Maybe it is because of his last name or his long history in the energy industry, but Tom Wind is bullish on the future of wind energy in Iowa.
"Wind power is on a path to reach 20 percent of the U.S. energy needs by 2030 — in Iowa, it already is at 25 percent," Wind, the owner of Wind Utility Consulting, told a crowd last week at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. "Iowa leads the country in the percentage of electricity that comes from wind."
The Jamaica, Iowa, man has made a career out of helping clients determine if it is economically feasible for them to install a wind turbine. The consulting engineer's company specializes in utility planning and evaluations for municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, companies and schools. A graduate of Iowa State University, Ames, in his early career he worked in a power plant — eventually specializing in power systems and corporate planning for Iowa Southern Utilities, Centerville.
Wind's presentation of "The Future of Wind Energy" offered a snapshot of the history of wind energy in Iowa as well as his predictions for the industry. The Exploring Engineering event, hosted by St. Ambrose University's engineering program, drew a crowd of about 100 including prospective college students and their parents, Ambrose students and staff, area engineers and others interested in wind energy.
Jodi Prosise, St. Ambrose assistant professor of engineering, said the university recruited Wind to speak about engineering and its role in renewable energy, in part, to go along with the college's 2013 theme of sustainability. "Today's engineers — including our own students — have the unique opportunity to play a key role in green energy technologies ...," she said.
Wind pointed to several factors that launched Iowa into a renewable energy leadership position, including the nation's energy crisis of 1974, state policy changes that mandated energy efficiency and renewable energy use and a few visionary individuals who installed the state's first turbines.
"The wind farms weren't there 15 years ago," he said, adding that all the wind energy has evolved as a result "of real people solving real people."
While utility companies originally were not allowed to own their own wind energy, that changed in the mid-2000s with new legislation. Since then, he said "MidAmerican Energy really has led the way ... now they own more windpower than any other investor-owned utility." Wind added that the investment by the utility, which serves the Quad-Cities, has helped stabilize the rates. "MidAmerican is one of the reasons Iowa is a leader in wind."
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But one of the impediments ahead, Wind said is a lack of transmission lines to carry Iowa's wind energy. "If any of the three proposed major transmission systems get built, we could be at 50 percent of our electricity being generated by wind," he added.
Still, the need will continue to grow for engineers, technicians, manufacturing employees and transportation and logistics jobs as Iowa continues to install more wind and attract even more wind-related manufacturers. Today, Iowa has 3,200 wind turbines producing 5,100 megawatts of wind energy, or 25 percent of the state's electric needs. It also is home to 13 manufacturers producing wind turbine parts.
"A wind turbine is a technical marvel ... and it takes engineering to figure all that out. But even after they build all these things, you have to keep them up and running 25 years."
Wind said Iowa's move to create incentives for ''community wind projects'' also has drive the alternative energy's growth. "There are a number of communities, schools and farmers that have had individual turbines installed," said Wind, who owns two turbines himself.
He predicts that if Iowa increases its transmission capacity, "in the next two years, 35 percent of the electricity coming out of the wall socket could be wind energy."