What Are Disadvantages To Using Wind Energy In Iowa?

High Upfront Costs

What are disadvantages to using wind energy in Iowa?

One of the main disadvantages of using wind energy in Iowa is the high upfront costs of building and installing wind turbines. According to Windustry.org (1), utility-scale wind turbines can cost between $1.3 million to $2.2 million per megawatt (MW) of capacity. This means a single 2 MW turbine could cost $2.6 million to $4.4 million upfront. For a wind farm with multiple large turbines, the costs add up quickly into the billions of dollars.

These high capital costs present financial barriers for companies or utilities looking to invest in wind power. The steep initial investment required often needs financing and takes many years to recoup through energy sales. This makes wind power a long-term investment compared to fossil fuel plants.

While ongoing costs like maintenance and land leases are relatively low, the sheer size and complexity of industrial wind turbines account for their lofty price tag. The tall towers, massive blades, generators, and transformers all add costs compared to smaller turbines for residential use. Iowa’s wind farms rely on these larger, pricier models to maximize energy production.


One disadvantage of wind power is that its generation is intermittent and depends on wind speed, which is variable and unpredictable. The output from wind turbines can fluctuate greatly over the course of a day and across seasons (DailyCaller, 2016). This is problematic for grid operators who must ensure demand is met at all times. Sudden drops in wind generation can require firing up fossil fuel plants quickly to fill the gap. Storing excess wind energy when generation is high is also an engineering challenge.

Because wind speeds are inconsistent, so too is the energy output from wind farms. Even with advanced wind turbine designs, the inherent variability of the wind resource remains an issue (Spencer, LinkedIn). Forecasting tools have improved but still cannot perfectly predict wind availability hours or days in advance, which is needed for proper grid management. Intermittency poses difficulties in integrating large amounts of wind power and reliably meeting electricity demand.

Land Use

Wind turbines require large amounts of land to effectively capture wind energy. According to the Today’s Homeowner, a single 2.2 MW wind turbine needs between 40 and 70 acres of land (source). Landgate states that each turbine generating around 2.5 MW can require up to 80 acres (source). In the U.S., each megawatt of capacity needs around 0.75 acres. So a typical 2 MW turbine would need 1.5 acres (source). This means that wind farms take up significant amounts of land to generate electricity. Iowa may not have the available open rural land near energy demand centers to support massive wind farm developments.

Noise Pollution

Wind turbines can generate noise that some find disruptive, especially for nearby residents. The main sources of noise include the gearbox and generator inside the nacelle, the interaction between turbine blades and wind, and mechanical noise from the moving parts [https://www.pagerpower.com/news/wind-turbine-noise-pollution/]. Modern wind turbine designs have reduced noise levels compared to earlier models, but noise pollution remains a drawback. Proper siting of turbines and setback distances from homes can help mitigate noise issues. Researchers are also exploring innovative solutions like designing turbine blades modeled after silent owl wings to reduce trailing edge noise [https://phys.org/news/2022-01-owl-wing-aircraft-turbine-noise.html]. Overall, wind turbine noise pollution can negatively impact quality of life for close neighbors.

Threat to Wildlife

Wind turbines can negatively impact birds and bats in Iowa. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, wind turbines pose collision threats to birds and bats.1 The turning blades of wind turbines can strike flying birds and bats, causing direct mortality. Iowa’s landscape of agricultural fields and grasslands provides ideal habitat for birds and bats, increasing the risk of turbine interactions. Migratory species traveling through the state may be especially vulnerable. The Iowa DNR notes that species such as red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, turkey vultures, and common nighthawks are among those most frequently killed by wind turbines in Iowa.2 Proper siting, operation, and mitigation strategies can help reduce the threat that wind turbines pose to birds and bats.

Visual Impact

Some people find wind turbines unattractive on the landscape. Studies have found that the visual impact of wind turbines generally decreases with distance within the first few kilometers. However, people’s judgments on the aesthetic impact of wind turbines show inconsistent results at longer distances (Kirchhoff, 2022). Visual impact analyses can help accurately portray how wind turbines may affect views. However, some people still find wind turbines unappealing to look at.

Overall, the visual impact of wind turbines is subjective. While some may find them visually unappealing, wind energy supporters argue their benefits outweigh any visual disturbances. With careful planning and siting, visual impacts can also be minimized. But the aesthetic aspect remains one drawback for some regarding wind turbine deployment.

Energy Storage Issues

One disadvantage of wind power is the need for energy storage solutions. Wind turbines only generate electricity when the wind is blowing within the right speed range. Wind power is an intermittent energy source that ebbs and flows based on weather conditions. This variability means additional infrastructure is needed to store excess electricity generated when winds are strong. The stored energy can then be used during periods of low wind when turbines are not spinning quickly enough to meet demand. Developing adequate and cost-effective energy storage continues to be a challenge for expanding wind power (https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-challenges-of-renewable-energy-storage). Currently, the most feasible large-scale storage options are pumped hydroelectric storage and compressed air energy storage. However, geographic constraints limit suitable sites. Other solutions like advanced batteries and hydrogen storage are promising but not yet cost-competitive (https://typeset.io/questions/what-are-the-current-challenges-and-opportunities-for-933j1wmd0i). Until economical grid-scale storage becomes widely available, intermittency will impose technical limits on the penetration of wind power.

Transmission Capacity

Iowa has vast wind energy potential, but its electricity grid may lack the capacity to transmit all the wind power generated to populated areas that need it. According to the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa would need to significantly expand its transmission infrastructure to unlock the full potential of wind energy in the state (https://www.iaenvironment.org/webres/File/Wind%20Energy%20Fact%20Sheet%20-%202022%20(1).pdf).

Most of Iowa’s wind turbines are in the north and west, while most electricity demand comes from cities in the east and south. New transmission lines would be needed to get power from where it’s generated to where it’s used. Upgrades to interconnect Iowa with other Midwest states could also help export excess wind energy to a broader market.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Iowa has over 12,200 megawatts of installed wind capacity, but its transmission infrastructure and grid management capabilities limit the ability to integrate more wind onto the system (https://windexchange.energy.gov/states/ia). Significant investments in transmission will be necessary to utilize Iowa’s full wind power potential.

Local Opposition

Some local groups are resisting wind projects in their communities. Several reasons are driving this opposition in Iowa according to sources. Citing https://www.iowapublicradio.org/ipr-news/2022-02-15/a-proposed-southwest-iowa-wind-farm-faces-opposition-from-local-residents, residents in Mills and Pottawattamie counties opposed a proposed MidAmerican wind farm over concerns about noise, views, and potential impacts on property values. Groups like Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance (PRIA) have also formed to fight wind developments, believing they threaten rural life.

Another source https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/wind/wind-energy-powerhouse-iowa-seeing-a-spike-in-grassroots-opposition notes local opposition to wind farms in Iowa has grown significantly in recent years. Reasons include noise, views, property values, and a feeling that rural communities bear the brunt of energy transitions while cities reap the benefits.

Blade Disposal

Disposing of old wind turbine blades can be difficult. The issue stems from how durable the blades were designed for better performance. Fiberglass and other composite materials make the blades highly resistant to decomposition (“Wind Turbine Blade Recycling Environmental Challenges and …”). As a result, most wind turbine blades end up in landfills when decommissioned. Iowa has one of the highest amounts of wind capacity installations in the last decade, which means a growing amount of blade waste as they reach the end of operating life (Boulevard Planning Group, 2022).

The size of wind turbine blades, often over 100 feet long, makes disposal challenging. Special equipment and handling is required, increasing the costs. As more blades are decommissioned, the lack of recycling infrastructure and options may become a larger issue. Some companies are exploring alternative uses for old blades, such as using them in bridges or buildings. However, most blades still end up in landfills.

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