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Hawkeye State Headwinds: A Case Study of Local Opposition and Siting Challenges for More Wind Energy in Iowa

ClearPath and LucidCatalyst


July 2022

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require a massive infrastructure build-out over the next 28 years, involving deploying enough clean electricity generation to meet all our needs while building the infrastructure necessary to electrify industry and transport along the way. Detailed computer models can optimize for the cheapest paths to achieve net-zero but cannot easily account for the political feasibility of the energy systems they project. Several constraints could limit the future ability to decarbonize, ranging from local opposition to regulatory delays, supply chain issues, and workforce capacity.

To understand some of the real-world challenges of decarbonization, ClearPath and LucidCatalyst collected a database of all county-level wind ordinances in Iowa. We then conducted a detailed geospatial downscaling analysis of the Princeton Net-Zero America Project (NZAP) 2050 wind energy projections for each county in Iowa, applying each county’s setback requirements and standards. We qualitatively considered transmission and interconnection issues that could limit clean energy growth of all varieties. Ultimately, the wind development challenges in Iowa are common across the U.S. and should be incorporated into deep decarbonization modeling and clean energy policy.

Key Takeaways


1. The scale and pace of wind deployment must grow between 3 and 17 times 2020 capacity for Net-Zero. 

2. Opposition to wind is growing, but causes are multifaceted: The prevalence and stringency of wind ordinances are increasing across the U.S. Numerous states, particularly in the midwest, have county-level siting authority, and many counties have adopted prohibitive ordinances for wind development.

3. There is no room for more wind without new transmission, which also faces opposition.


4. More than 49% of candidate project areas are ruled out by local ordinances.

LucidCatalyst partnered with ClearPath to develop this study, led and implemented by John Herter and Ian Woodhouse of LucidCatalyst. Eric Ingersoll provided the inspiration for this study based on the idea that energy models must realistically reflect the true costs and risks associated with each energy source.

> Read more and view study

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