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Iowa's largest energy company announced plans Wednesday to spend $1.9 billion to install hundreds of wind turbines by the end of 2015, marking what the governor described as the largest economic development project in the state's history.
Officials with Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy made the announcement at a Statehouse news conference with Gov. Terry Branstad, who noted that wind energy has been a selling point for high-tech firms looking to invest in Iowa.
"Wind energy is an exploding field and we're excited about it," Branstad said. "As wind energy grows, so does the Iowa economy."
The company wants to build 656 turbines, though the locations have yet to be chosen. Customers won't see new rate increases because federal tax credits are expected to offset the project's cost over the next 30 years, company spokesman Tim Grabinski said.
When completed, the new turbines will have the capacity to generate as much as 1,050 megawatts of wind power — which MidAmerican President William Fehrman said would represent nearly 40 percent of energy used by customers. He added that the utility's Iowa customers would eventually see a slight decrease in their bills as a result of the project.
Fehrman said construction would start before the end of the year to ensure that the project qualifies for a federal tax credit for wind production. The credit, first enacted in 1992, was extended by Congress earlier this year.
"This is all about our customers. By doing this, we're not only setting up our customers for the long term to have a strong supply of renewable energy, but we're able to do it in a very competitive manner," Fehrman said.
No state tax credits or incentives will be offered for the effort, Branstad said.
Officials said the project would create about 460 construction jobs and 48 permanent jobs. Fehrman said MidAmerican would prefer Iowa construction firms, but no contractors have been selected yet.
MidAmerican is Iowa's largest energy company, bringing electricity to 734,000 customers and natural gas to 714,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. MidAmerican began building wind turbines in 2004, and it currently has 1,267 wind turbines in Iowa.
Iowa leads the nation in wind energy production, getting 24.5 percent of its electricity from wind power in 2012, according to the American Wind Energy Association's Annual Market Report for 2012.