The two companies that own more wind turbines in Iowa than any other firm are in a dispute that will be aired at Monday’s Iowa Utilities Board meeting. MidAmerican Energy has asked state regulators to approve a deal which would see the utility build a huge, new "wind farm" and have the $2 billion project financed by rate-payers — in other words MidAmerican’s customers.
But NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida-based company that also operates wind turbines in Iowa, objects. "We’re a pretty big wind company, too," says Michael O’Sullivan, NextEra’s senior vice president. "We can provide that wind power as cheaply or as cost-effectively, as quickly as MidAmerican and we weren’t even given a chance."
As more wind turbines are erected in Iowa and new, high-voltage transmission lines go up nationwide, the excess power from Iowa wind turbines can be sold to utilities in other states.
If the Iowa Utilities Board approves MidAmerican’s deal, NextEra’s vice president says the decision will have a "chilling effect" on out-of-state companies considering wind development in Iowa because, O’Sullivan says, regulators will be siding with the "home team" — MidAmerican.
"It seems to be telling us that the sandbox is closed and our ‘Tonka Trucks’ aren’t allowed," O’Sullivan says. While NextEra employs about 600 Iowans to manage its wind turbines and the nuclear power plant in Palo, NextEra sells the energy to Alliant and does not have a direct link to Iowa consumers.
That means NextEra cannot make the kind of proposal that MidAmerican has, one that would see MidAmerican’s Iowa customers help finance construction of its new wind farm.
"Is there a small bit of jealousy in us? Probably. That’s probably fair," O’Sullivan says. "But this is a risk discussion and a commercial discussion and what you’re asking is for Iowans to take on more risks and give a certain shareholder or investor a premium return without taking those risks."
MidAmerican is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway corporation and ranks as the nation’s number one generator of wind power. About half of the energy generated by wind farms in Iowa comes from turbines owned by MidAmerican.
MidAmerican officials argue their customers will benefit from the new wind turbines because MidAmerican will be able to sell the excess energy out-of-state at a profit and therefore keep electric rates low for its Iowa customers.
The wind farm MidAmerican proposes would be the largest wind project in Iowa. The Iowa Utilities Board will hold a hearing on the proposal on Monday, August 10, then both companies have until August 26 to submit legal documents to the board that outline their arguments.