Quick Questions: Chet Culver

Governor Chester “Chet” Culver became Iowa’s 40th Governor in January of 2007. Before entering the state’s highest office, he served as its Secretary of State from 1998-2006. Both a former history teacher and environmental advocate, Governor Culver utilizes his experiences in office to build upon Iowa’s strengths in renewable energy. He is the creator of the Iowa Power Fund, which is turning the state into the renewable energy capital of the nation. He is also a founding member of the Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition, a bipartisan group of the nation’s governors who are committed to reducing America’s dependence on imported energy, by advancing the development of the nation’s wind energy resources.

Chet Culver
Chet Culver

Q: What is the value of wind in economic development for states? How has it made a difference for Iowa?

The development that has occurred is truly amazing. Land lease payments to farmers are between 2 to 4 thousand dollars per turbine per year. Currently, Iowa has 2,140 turbines spinning within its borders. These payments also contribute to local tax bases which in turn assist rural schools and public works projects.

Additionally, since turbine components are heavy, shipping becomes a barrier so manufacturers must open factories close to where construction is occurring. The market has been strong in IA and the upper Great Plains, and while the economic downturn has affected the industry, additional growth has occurred in IA ever quarter since the downturn began.

To give an idea of wind energies potential, just for the state of Iowa to fulfill the Department of Energy’s 20 percent by 2030 wind vision will require, including direct and indirect jobs 63,000 local jobs during the construction phase and 9,000 long term jobs. The total economic benefit is projected to be $21 billion dollars over the next 20 years. This includes $53 million per year in landowner revenues and $90 million per year contributions to local property taxes.

Q: Can you describe the role of the GWC in promoting bipartisan national wind development policies? What are the specific challenges that you have faced in carrying out this role?

Currently, the GWC has thirty members representing every region in the country. We are a diverse coalition consisting of both republicans and democrats; what unites us is we all recognize the economic development potential clean wind energy can provide to this nation and our respective states. We all recognize that business as usual in terms of where our energy comes from is unacceptable to preserving future generations and the nation’s competitive advantages. Clean energy is both a boon for the environment as we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and a boon for the economy as we capture competitive advantages through American ingenuity in evolving into the new energy economy.

One current project that excites us in its challenges is working out regional differences in establishing large regional extra-high voltage transmission systems to move clean energy from the places where the wind blows, the sun shines, and the waves break to the population centers where demand for energy is greatest.

Q: Do you have any specific recommendations the GWC has for policy improvements at the federal level?

Yes, the GWC recommends six key policies at the federal level to ensure the viability of an industry that America can one day hang its hat on as a global leader in the new energy economy. First, the nation must adopt a Renewable Electricity Standard. The nation’s wind energy industry and supporting infrastructure will not reach their full potential unless the nation sets a minimum requirement for the use of renewable electricity.

Secondly, the united states must build a New Unified Interstate Electric Transmission System That Provides Access to Premier Renewable Energy both On Shore and Off Shore. The nation cannot be expected to fully develop the states’ rich domestic renewable resources without major improvements to the electric transmission system. In addition to wind energy, an upgraded transmission system will offer competitive advantages to all of the countries industry.

Third, the nation must fully support coastal, deep water, offshore wind energy technology research and development. If the nation is to meet the goal of providing 20 percent of its electric needs from wind power by 2030 and then continue wind’s expansion to provide even greater contributions in both the electricity and the transportation sectors, it must develop and use all the nation’s wind energy resources, including the rich wind areas along the nation’s coastal and Great Lake states.

Fourth, the permitting processes for both offshore and on-shore wind development projects must be streamlined. Congress must approve legislation that will allow for the efficient and timely review of wind projects on federal lands and in offshore coastal regions. While legislation is needed to improve the permitting process, dramatically improved coordination among state, federal and industry participants is equally important.

Fifth the nation must dramatically expand wind research, innovation, and collaboration. Wind power technology is one of the best economic development opportunities for our states. Production of wind energy components and systems can help revitalize the manufacturing sector, and will provide substantial benefits to the nation’s economy through domestic and export markets.

And finally, Congress must extend the treasury department grant program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and adopt a Long-Term Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) with provisions to broaden the pool of investors eligible to participate. An extension of the Treasury Department grant program is necessary while financial markets continue to recover. Over the longer-term, the Production Tax Credit, which has been the primary federal incentive for wind energy, should be extended for at least five years to provide a stable incentive for wind energy investment.

Q: Is wind power an area that lends itself to regional as well as state-specific development?

Yes, it certainly does. While Iowa creates many of the components that operate in IA erected turbines, many of our turbines come from out of state. For example, the GE 1.5 MW turbine is the most popular in the nation, and many are spinning here in IA, but we do not house any GE factories, so many of the manufacturing benefits accrue elsewhere. Since shipping turbines a long distance is a barrier due to the extreme weight and size of these machines, the benefits accrue regionally. One item we are currently exploring with the Department of Energy is looking at the benefits to broader regions. Meaning, the hypothesis goes that even non wind-rich states benefit by transitioning to a clean energy economy even though they may not be erecting turbines within their borders. This is because the manufacturing sector and supply chain stretches so far. Nobody has fully proven this line of thought although anecdotally it appears to be true. Iowa is taking the lead in partnering with the federal government to explore this idea.

Q: Are there any specific areas related to the power handling capacity of the grid?

Our national electric grid has evolved over 100 years to serve local markets, and it cannot transmit major renewable energy resources from the rural areas where they are found to the electricity load centers where they are needed. Over the last 20 years, transmission investment has lagged. When almost all new generation was natural gas-fired, that was possible. Now, with a more diverse electricity portfolio being planned, transmission must be addressed.
The nation’s failure to build significant new electric transmission and foster the consolidation of broad regional markets has not only limited the use of the nation’s premier renewable energy resources, it has left consumers captive to the higher prices of smaller local electricity markets while undermining electric grid reliability.
There are many benefits to building a large backbone system. In the long-term it is much cheaper to build it right the first time and build it big, this way we can capture an economies of scale. Land use issues are another reason to build a robust grid system. There is a limited number of right-of-way in this country. One single circuit 765 kv line, carries the same amount of energy in 200ft. of right-of-way as six 345 kv single circuit lines carry in 900 ft of pathway. Finally, larger lines are more efficient, they do not waste as much energy through line loss, therefore less generation capacity is necessary to accomplish our goals.