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ILEC dedicates newest wind energy farms

By Staff | Aug 28, 2009

SUPERIOR – Celebrating the first wind farms to generate wind energy to serve another renewable energy resource, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative Thursday dedicated a series of new wind turbines at its Superior and Lakota sites.

Each seven-unit wind farm will supply directly to an ethanol plant – Superior Ethanol on the west edge of Superior and another ethanol plant in Lakota.

The cooperative broke ground for the projects in August 2008. The turbines started generating power last March.

Thursday’s ceremony was held at the Superior 71 Drive-in Theater just west of Superior and south of the turbines.

A surprisingly blustery day for August, the turbines were turning at near full capacity as ILEC officials – and other spokesmen – lauded the efforts by the cooperative and those who assisted it in completing the project that was innovative both in concept and in financing.

“This is truly an historic event for the cooperative we are celebrating here today” said ILEC President and CEO Terry Bruns. “This is truly a first-of-a-kind-in-the-nation event.” Bruns underscored the $43 million investment and multiple partnerships that made the project a reality.

Bruns said cooperative member-owners had started the dialogue about possible options for wind energy and the cooperative began discussing a community-based project six years ago. However, such a project was not feasible due to a lack of incentives for cooperatives as compared to for-profit developers.

In 2005 Congress approved Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. That opened the door for the cooperative to apply for CREB financing. The cooperative developed the idea of locating the wind farms next to ethanol plants.

Working with Basin Electric, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and State Sen. Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, the cooperative saw the plan was economically feasible.

In December 2007, the cooperative was awarded $43 million in CREBs to finance the development of wind projects in its service area.

Bruns said ILEC was also the first electric cooperative to develop a wind farm of this size, generating 71 million kilowatts annually.

In a video message from Grassley, he called ILEC “a real pioneer in the generation and use of renewable energy” and that the turbines visible on the horizon helped to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“This really closes the loop when we talk about renewable energy,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa. Latham noted his opposition to the current cap and trade legislation before Congress and said instead the nation needed a mix of energy resources – renewable and traditional combined with conservation.

“This is a key part,” Latham said of Iowa’s newest wind farm. “It’s about the opportunities for so many people to have jobs.”

What renewables have done for the state of Iowa is remarkable when it comes to economic development and jobs, said Kibbie. As far as support for renewable energy in the Iowa Legislature, “It’s been in a bipartisan way and that’s the only way you accomplish those goals.”

Kibbie said the Legislature has expanded the state tax credit program for wind energy which allows cooperatives to use special property tax valuations and have sales tax exemptions.

He added that legislation for small wind farms will help farmers, schools, hospitals and others construct turbines for their own use.

Rick Olesen, vice president of operations and engineering, said the project would not have happened without the assistance of Basin Electric. “They decided to help us out and partner” on the project, Olesen said.

Recognition also went to CoBANK, which bought $43 million in CREBs. A host of other partners was recognized, including the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation which provided interim project financing and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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