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Energy Efficiency

Buffett’s Berkshire Pitches $3.9 Billion Iowa Wind and Solar Project

A wind turbine stand on property used by the Alliant Energy Corp. Whispering Willow Wind Farm in Iowa Falls, Iowa, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. Wind energy, the fastest-growing source of electricity in the U.S., is transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the federal government gave land to homesteaders 150 years ago. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) —

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is proposing to spend $3.9 billion to bring more wind and solar generation to Iowa in a project that could be among the renewable industry’s biggest.

The “Wind Prime” renewable-energy project would bring 2,042 megawatts of wind generation and 50 megawatts of solar power, Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy Co. said Wednesday in a statement. That could produce enough to power about 600,000 homes. The firm is also planning to fund studies about technologies that could help with carbon capture, energy storage and smaller nuclear reactors. 

The project would bolster Iowa’s already significant wind market. In 2019, the state generated 41% of its total energy needs from wind, up from just 5.1% in 2006, according to the Iowa Utilities Board. Governor Kim Reynolds called the Wind Prime project a “commitment and investment on a whole new level.”

Berkshire, overseen by Buffett as chief executive officer, has been building MidAmerican’s renewable efforts in recent years. MidAmerican estimates that it delivered 88% renewable energy to Iowa customers on an annual basis in 2021.

Buffett has said that he expected the utility could achieve “wind self-sufficiency” in Iowa. MidAmerican said Wednesday that the Wind Prime project will help the utility provide renewable energy equal to its Iowa customers’ annual usage. 

“As MidAmerican continues to progress toward delivering 100% renewable energy to our customers, we are also preparing to meet an important milestone of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” Kelcey Brown, president and CEO of MidAmerican, said in the statement.

Berkshire expects the project to create 1,100 jobs during construction, and another 125 for ongoing efforts. It can generate an average of $24 million a year in local property-tax payments on the turbines and solar equipment, plus more than $21 million in annual landowner-easement payments. Berkshire expects construction to be completed in late 2024 if the project is approved.  

“This stands to potentially be the single largest wind project ever built in the U.S.,” Ethan Zindler, an analyst at BloombergNEF, said in an email. Still, projects of similar size have been announced and then never finished, so “there’s a long way to go for this project.” (Updates with generation capacity in second paragraph, BNEF comment in final paragraph)

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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