Editor's Corner

Monday, November 17, 2003

A very, very quiet windstorm

Slowly, all the necessary paperwork and permits are getting done for a new $300 million-plus wind farm.

You know, the one that will sprawl across Sac County and into Maple Valley Township in southwest Buena Vista County.

The one that's being known as "Intrepid."

The one for which contracts are being signed with area farmers for land to host the towers for at last the next 20-30 years.

Yeah, that one - the one California developer Clipper refuses to answer any questions about. The one utility giant MidAmerican Energy is behind but officially has no comment about.

Wonder why things got so quiet. Long months ago, MidAmerican was making lots of noise and Clipper was all enthusiasm. After all, what they are looking to do is build the largest single wind energy project in the world in northwest and north central Iowa - a huge breakthrough in clean energy for the utility industry and a major economic development for Iowa.

It seemed like the attitude changed overnight, however.

Suddenly, all MidAmerican officials have to say is no comment. They haven't signed on with Clipper, and they haven't committed to any site, they say.

Really? What are all those contracts in the farmer's hands, then? Or the requests to the BV County Board of Adjustment to place 27 million-dollar turbines in the lower left corner of the county map?

One day, a call to Clipper produces a bubbling executive who says to call him back tomorrow and he'll have big, exciting news. The next day, the same executive isn't returning any calls, and his firm maintains complete radar silence that the project is happening at all.

Guess that's big business for you. Maybe the companies are afraid of tipping their hand to the few competitors in this field. Or hedging their bets in case something falls through on the local site at the last moment. Or maybe the utility company and the energy developer aren't yet totally sold on a marriage.

At any rate, some of the farmers being approached are a bit nervous. They are being asked to sign on with a project that still hasn't been formally announced as a "go" here to the public.

Others hesitate at the deal being offered. There's no share of the profits, the few holdouts note, and they are being asked to commit productive farmland for perhaps the next 30 years at a flat rate.

A couple of thousand bucks sounds pretty good right now, but they wonder if it will still seem like such a good decision in 2003, when the value of that same amount may look entirely different.

One has to suppose that it's a chicken-or-the-egg deal.

Do you make a big whooping deal about your giant mega-project before you've gotten the necessary land signed into your hot hands, or do you try to get all the land and approvals before you give the go-ahead to build the turbines?

And then there are still questions we have yet to hear answered - such as whether the existing transmission grid in the region can carry this much more power effectively one we've produced it.

At any rate, things seem to be coming together for this historic development, which would cement this region's reputation as the wind energy capital of the world, probably for years to come.

And things will have to come together, in quite a hurry, if the project is to meet its original timeline. Moving parts across country to build over 100 turbines on 219-foot towers is no simple feat, nor is the assembly, establishment of access paths and all the rest.

If all goes well, the announcement that has to be one of the most poorly-guarded secrets in business history will belatedly go public some time late this year.

We hope that's the case. While some see the turbines as detracting from the Iowa landscape, they are in fact monuments to a new age of clean, green energy, and even with their economic impact put aside, the fossil fuels they save from burning into our air makes them a very important addition indeed.

There will be time, and cause, for celebration later. As long as all of our local farmers and landowners are treated fairly, and as long as all of the necessary research has been done to ensure longterm success for this project, long after the sons and daughters of today's farmers have taken over those acres.

Today, nobody seems to want to say a word about a project that boggles the mind in both expense and impact to permanently change the cornstalked horizon we know so well.

That attitude will change soon enough, we hope. This is too big a project to be hidden under a blanket of silence for much longer.