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Iowa’s Small Wind Innovation Zones Encouraging Local Wind Projects

Not-so-mighty wind projects welcome in Corridor

If you’re a rural residents looking to generate your own electricity, Linn and Johnson counties are ready.

The counties are two of Iowa’s three Small Wind Innovation Zones, certified by the Iowa Utilities Board for consistent zoning standards and streamlined permitting for wind-turbine energy systems. The Iowa Legislature created the zones in 2009 to promote small-wind production.
The designation allows owners of small-wind energy conversion systems to take advantage of an expedited local approval process and makes it easier for homeowners with a small wind turbine to connect to the grid and take advantage of programs to reduce their monthly energy costs.
Linn County became an innovation zone three weeks ago, Johnson and Floyd counties in March.
“We haven’t had anybody build one yet,” said Rick Dvorak, Johnson County planning and zoning administrator. “We’ve had lots of inquiries.”
“A few people came in and asked about putting up turbines, what zone standards apply,” said Bill Micheel, planner for Linn County Planning & Development. “We were interested in providing an expedited approval process. We wanted to make sure our ordinance still protected the health safety and welfare of the county.”
The zones must also be served by utilities willing to adopt interconnection agreements with wind-power users. The agreements require utilities to buy or provide credits for generators’ surplus power and are mandated for state-regulated utilities such as Alliant Energy or Mid-American, although many cooperatives and publicly-owned utilities also participate.
Small-scale wind installations in innovation zones may also be eligible for tax credits.
Linn County sets an 120-foot maximum tower height on properties larger than an acre, 80 feet on smaller parcels. The limits may be exceeded by 25 percent when needed to clear nearby wind-blocking obstacles such as trees or buildings. Noise restrictions also apply.
The standards apply to smaller residential-scale installations of 100 kilowatts or less — usually a single tower powering a home, farm, or small business. The big “utility-scale” generators used in commercial wind farms typically generate two megawatts, or 20 times residential capacity.
“These are not normally do-it-yourself projects,” said Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association. “It’s very, very complicated. You need to find a competent consultant, invest a little money.”
Interconnection agreements date from a 1970s-era federal law requiring regulated utilities to buy surplus power generated by small-scale producers. The concept has evolved into “net metering,” in which the utility credits a customer for generating more electricity than they consume. The credits are applied against the customer’s bill.
“If they’re generating more than they’re consuming in a given month, they can get credits to offset months when they consume more,” Prior said.
A small-scale wind generator combined with net metering can reduce a rural customer’s electricity costs by up to two-thirds, Prior said. A well-designed installation can pay off in 10 to 15 years and should have a 25-to-30-year useful life.
— Small Wind Innovation Zones
— Iowa Wind Energy Association
— Iowa Energy Center
(c)2012 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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