A powerful wind is blowing across the rolling hills of Iowa, the only state whose east and west borders are formed entirely by rivers. Iowa boasts plentiful natural resources that generate massive amounts of power, so much power that this year, Iowa became the first state, tied with Kansas, to hit a national benchmark with the wind as the state’s leading energy source. Supplanting coal-fired power, the wind blows in over 40% of Iowa’s electricity in 10,000 megawatts of energy annually, bringing valuable jobs along with it. Iowa is second only to Texas in wind industry jobs, with more than 9,000 and counting. The state’s total economic investment correlates with this growth, at $19 billion Iowa is again second only to the Lone Star State.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is in his 39th year of serving Iowans and he’s a firm believer in the power of wind. He and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon are leading a bipartisan call for wind energy funding this year, citing compelling statistics on jobs in the industry. Wind energy currently employs more than 120,000 Americans, including a 50% higher rate of veterans than the national average. “This funding is necessary in order to continue supporting rural communities, advance domestic energy independence, and ensure America remains a leader in wind energy technology,” the senators wrote in a letter to the top lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. “The Wind Energy Program has a proven record of accomplishment in supporting research and technology development at national laboratories that improves the efficiency of U.S. wind power and lowers consumer costs. As new markets for wind energy and technology open in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, the U.S. should aim to be the exporter of technology, innovation, and equipment, not cede technological innovations to governments overseas.” The senators concluded, “If we continue to invest in wind, this American success story will continue.”
Indeed, a recent USA Today report asserts that reliable income from wind energy can help farmers survive an unpredictable economic season. According to the American Wind Energy Association, land lease payments for Iowa wind projects reached $69 million in 2019. And in order for that land to yield a successful wind harvest, wind turbines must be installed and maintained, so much so that America’s second-fastest growing profession is wind turbine technician.
We talked with Rob Denson, president of Des Moines Community College, about the Wind Turbine Technologies Associate of Applied Science degree, a two-year program that trains future wind technicians of America. “We’ve offered wind training since 2009, and there are currently about 32 students in the program,” Denson says, “It’s a popular program, but it still has openings.” He’s excited about a full-sized nacelle to be installed this fall, which will enhance the hands-on experience the program provides. “Our own turbine is beautiful and provides about 5% of our daily and 33% of our overnight electrical needs.”
When asked about Iowa’s strong lead in wind energy production, Denson lights up: “Combining Iowa’s work ethic with nature’s wind flow is a point of real Iowa pride. We are attracting national companies like Facebook because no one does green energy like Iowa.” He’s not worried about the pandemic’s effect on wind energy jobs: “Wind jobs may be as close to recession-proof as any career position. Whether people go out or stay home, utilities must be provided. It’s a very technical and well-paid career with much growth potential.”
Many agree with Denson’s common sense take on wind energy, and energy efficiency in general, calling for policy to support federal and state investment in clean energy to kick job growth back into gear across the country. While Iowa is in the top five states for wind energy jobs, it also has much to offer in energy efficiency with jobs in construction, manufacturing, sales, distribution, architecture, engineering, and R&D. America’s fastest-growing energy industry, energy efficiency jobs accounted for about half (76,000) of the entire job growth for energy in 2018, clocking in at 2.3 million American workers. There are 20,587 energy efficient jobs in Iowa — that’s 24% of all energy sector jobs, 16% of construction jobs, with veterans making up 8% of Iowans employed in energy efficiency.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is all in on renewable energy. In August of 2019, she made it official, signing a proclamation to recognize the wind energy industry, declaring it “Wind Week” across the state. At the ceremony, Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham spoke: “Indeed, businesses are increasingly focused on their environmental footprint and the fact that we can power a production economy with affordable, reliable and renewable energy is a powerful calling card for our state. It’s one of the many reasons sustainability-minded businesses like Facebook and Apple and Google have chosen Iowa.” “Wind Week” is now off to the races and if Rob Denson and the students over at DMACC have anything to do with it, this is just the beginning of a major windfall for Iowa and the rest of America.