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It’s not hard to find stories of fervent wind-energy opposition, despite public opinion polls that show widespread support. From Maryland to Scotland to Vermont to Ontario, proposed projects face claims that the giant turbines are bad for human health, slice and dice birds, explode bats, ruin views, torpedo property values, leak toxic fluids, are about to go up in flames, throw deadly ice shards – the list goes on.

Not so in Iowa. Support for wind power might not be universal in Iowa, but the state is about as wind-friendly as they come. Some 3,216 utility-scale turbines spin amid Iowa’s corn and soybean fields, according to the latest data. Wind turbines accounted for 27.4 percent of the electricity generated in Iowa in 2013 – the highest percentage in the country – and wind developers pay out millions in lease payments to landowners every year while puffing up county tax bases. Wind has also brought manufacturing jobs to the state, including a humming Siemens turbine factory in Fort Madison. No wonder the entire Iowa Congressional delegation supports an extension of the Production Tax Credit.

Fighting wind turbines? In Iowa, it’s more like fighting to get wind turbines, according to Iowa Wind Energy Association Executive Director Mike Prior.

“Four or five times a week I’ll get a phone call – I just got one yesterday – from someone asking what it would take to get one of those windmills on their land,” Prior said in a recent interview. He added that lease payments can amount to $6,000 to $10,000 per acre, and “there’s no crop in the world that’s going to yield you $6,000 to $10,000 an acre.”

The question bubbling up now, however, is whether Iowa can keep the wind power growth going beyond a current round of projects.

MidAmerican Energy is in the process of building five wind power plants that will bring 448 additional turbines and 1,050 MW in new capacity to Iowa. But to move beyond that, Iowa needs upgraded and expanded transmission. Some of it is in the works already, but there’s uncertainty about a key proposed project – the Rock Island Clean Line (RICL), a 500-mile, high voltage, direct current overhead line that would run from northwest Iowa across the state to just west of Chicago, where it could then connect with the Northeast U.S. grid.

On the Rock Island Clean Line, Iowans are not of one mind. 

“There has certainly been pushback,” Prior said. “More than we’ve ever seen with wind energy.”

In a way, this isn’t a surprise; it’s the rare power line that doesn’t run into opposition, if not from the landowners directly impacted, then from environmentalists. But power-line fights these days come with a green twist – the argument that the lines are needed to boost wind and other renewable energy sources. Most of the big, mainstream conservation groups buy into this view and support new transmission lines, even if they emphasize that projects must be undertaken with care. That’s why the Natural Resources Defense Council cheered last week’s court ruling that upheld federal regulations that could help make regional transmission projects easier to build.

(FILES) - Picture taken 31 August 2006 s

What many pro-transmission renewable energy supporters in Iowa and around the country highlight is what happened in Texas in the past several years. There, $7 billion invested in a grid expansion has resulted in “the elimination of transmission constraints [and] has helped wind generation in Texas reach new heights,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Texas led the U.S. in new wind capacity in the first half of this year, with 400 MW. More to the point, of the 14,600 MW of wind capacity now under construction, more than 8,000 MW is in Texas.

But Texas and Iowa are kind of apples and oranges when it comes to electrical transmission. Texas has a grid of its very own, not to mention a vast population that can use an ever-increasing amount of wind power. Not so in Iowa, which is part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator. In Iowa, opponents argue that the Rock Island Clean Line would benefit out-of-state interests at the expense of Iowans. If the East wants wind power, many say, the East should develop its own, on the Great Lakes or in the Atlantic, near its big population centers, instead of scarring Iowa’s landscape with giant transmission lines.

Prior finds that an odd argument in a state where the economy is built on sending goods beyond its borders.

“Hogs, soybeans, other commodities, certainly we wouldn’t be where we didn’t send our products out of state,” he said. “We want to use all the wind power we can in our state, of course, but we’re looking at wind power as being that next-generation cash crop, and to continue to grow, we need to be able to move that power.”

The Rock Island Clean Line still needs approval from both Illinois and Iowa regulators, but the developer, Clean Line Energy Partners, is hard at work on seeking easements along a route that appears settled. In a Des Moines Register op-ed earlier this year, the developers said an example of a deal would be $115,000 for “an easement … that is half a mile long by 145 feet wide with two single-pier foundation structures.” But if that doesn’t work – and the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance is urging landowners to resist – the company could seek to invoke eminent domain.