Guest Columnists

Mr. President - There's more to Iowa's wind story

The wind turbine at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The wind turbine at Kirkwood Community College in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Hours before President Donald Trump delivered remarks at his rally in downtown Cedar Rapids, he met with leaders and students at Kirkwood Community College. There, in the shadow of a 2.5-megawatt wind turbine, he learned about the exciting technology and innovation happening on campus and throughout Iowa.

I then was surprised to hear the president make negative remarks about wind energy during the rally. Perhaps he forgot his audience. More than 8,000 people are employed by the wind industry in Iowa, and zero employed by the coal mining industry. Wind jobs are to Iowa what coal jobs are to West Virginia. And in Iowa, we are planning on those jobs being available for many generations. A recent report from Navigant Consulting found that wind power is expected to provide 17,000 additional jobs and $9 billion economic activity over the next three years.

It is hard to question the reliability of wind energy in a state that generates more than a third of its energy from wind. Iowa utilities have strategically and effectively grown their renewable portfolios, while also maintaining grid reliability and some of the lowest electric rates in the country that are well below the national average. Iowa proves every day that wind works, and has worked well in this state for nearly two decades. Inevitably, President Trump’s own rally was powered in part by renewable energy.

The turbine on the Kirkwood campus is a great example of wind success in Iowa. I was the project manager for the planning, permitting, engineering,and construction observation with the firm contracted to help Kirkwood implement the turbine project. I’m proud of the positive investment, educational technology tool and landmark it has become for the college. The turbine provides an estimated 5.6 million kWh of renewable electricity to the campus. Since its commissioning in 2012, the turbine had produced more than $1 million in electricity by 2015 and offsets the theoretical equivalent to about 25 percent of Kirkwood’s electrical consumption.

What’s even more valuable than the economic benefit of the Kirkwood turbine is the hands-on opportunity it provides students as they prepare for careers in technology and the jobs of the future. The turbine is used as a learning laboratory, and students work alongside trained technicians. Kirkwood offers many classes for students interested in the wind industry, including courses in electronics and applied engineering, advanced manufacturing, wind turbine maintenance, power mechanics and more.

It also is necessary to set the record straight about wind turbines and birds. The National Audubon Society has done extensive research on bird deaths and found that, aside from habitat loss, the greatest causes of bird deaths are cats and tall buildings. Nearly a billion birds die from striking windows each year. That means a Trump Tower represents a component of human infrastructure that presents a greater risk to bird mortality than a wind turbine in Iowa.

I appreciate Trump cares about rural Iowa and farmers, and know that he also understands good investments. Surely the president can appreciate the sustainable economic upside of generating a high-demand commodity or product, energy, from a zero-emission, zero-waste power plant that utilizes “free” fuel. Wind energy has accounted for at least $13.5 billion in capital investment in Iowa, and wind turbines generate nearly $25 million annually in lease payments to landowners in Iowa. The wind farms also boost property tax revenue that helps communities upgrade their schools, fix roads and bridges, and provide other needed services to Iowans.

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I hope the next time President Trump visits Iowa, he can make time in his schedule to visit a wind farm, a classroom or one of the many supply chain or manufacturing businesses in Iowa to see firsthand the positive effect wind energy has in our great state. In the meantime, Iowa will continue to lead in energy innovation.

• Mike Fisher is vice president of Impact7G.

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