A Tale of Two Megawatts
A few Sundays ago, the Waterloo Courier featured a front page article about the proposed 750 megawatt coal burning power plant. It mentioned the $851,000 in tax dollars it was expected to bring to Waterloo city hall, plus some for the County, and some for Dunkerton schools. Numerous residents of the area have expressed serious concerns about the troublesome health issues caused by such a plant.
On the same weekend, the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa ran a front page story about a power company which has proposed to generate electricity using a local resource—wind. The 215 megawatt wind turbine project is expected to add $1 million in tax revenues to Carroll and Crawford counties, plus $367,000 in annual royalty payments to land owners where the wind turbines will be located.
So, here we have two communities, both interested in quality of life, economic development, jobs, and revenue to local governments. Each community is considering a proposal for additional electric power generation. With these commonalities as the starting point, each community can make choices that will lead to vastly different futures.
In the case of a 215 megawatt wind turbine farm near Carroll, land owners will not be displaced, they will be receiving a reasonable rent, and there will be significant jobs and tax revenues to the local community. ISU economist, David Swenson, has documented that each $1 million direct sales of wind energy generates much more economic activity than $1 million of coal burning power plants.
Not to mention multiple other benefits: no two-mile long coal trains coming and going through neighborhoods, no coal dust, no coal burning, no air pollution, no globe-warming gases, no increased in asthma cases, no mercury in our lakes, no coal mining, no mountain top removal in Kentucky. In other words, fresh-air economic development, without headaches and worries.
Now, contrast that with a situation where you allow a coal burning power plant. It is amazing how much powerlessness a power plant can bring to an area! You have disgruntled land owners and neighbors, use of eminent domain to force people away from their homes, and laws that have been weakened to prevent local people to participate in the decision process. And then, 10 years later you have chronic respiratory illnesses and polluted lakes all around. Honestly, can these be called “economic development”?
Same megawatts, but completely different histories, politics, local and global health effects.
But what do you do when it is not windy? (Well, then you have a “no-wind” situation.) It turns out that many locations in Iowa are indeed windy enough to meet a significant portion of a frugal energy demand. A recent study by the Iowa Policy Project documented how numerous public schools in Iowa are meeting nearly all their annual energy needs from the wind turbines they purchased and installed in their schoolyards. The payback period has been very short, even in a not very windy place like Eldora, Iowa.
A diverse set of energy sources (wind, direct solar, solar thermal, biomass, and even occasional use of coal if available) can meet most of our electrical and heating needs, even during no-wind situations, if we stop being such energy slobs.
It does matter how those megawatts are generated. And here in Iowa we have choices. We actually can choose our future energy-wise.
Dr. Kamyar Enshayan is a mechanical engineer and works at University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education. He can be reached at 273-7575 or firstname.lastname@example.org