Trailin': Alta Wind Project Largest in the World

Posted 9/2/99

According to the Iowa highway map the town of Cherokee, county seat of Cherokee County in Iowa, is…

By Tina Turney

According to the Iowa highway map the town of Cherokee, county seat of …

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Trailin': Alta Wind Project Largest in the World


According to the Iowa highway map the town of Cherokee, county seat of Cherokee County in Iowa, is…

By Tina Turney

According to the Iowa highway map the town of Cherokee, county seat of Cherokee County in Iowa, is situated on ground that has an elevation of 1200 ft. above sea level. The wide expanse of almost treeless prairie in northwest Iowa has made this part of the state a prime place to harvest one of Iowa’s crops…the wind.

Driving west on Iowa Highway 3 from Pocahontas in Humboldt County strange structures begin to appear on the horizon north of the town of Alta. The giant turbines, or hi-tech windmills, reach over 200 ft. into the sky and resemble huge prehistoric beasts or perhaps rows of robotic soldiers from a Star Wars movie. There are 259 of the wind towers that are located along Buena Vista County Road M31 between Alta on up north to near the town of Peterson.

The project was begun last year and was completed earlier this summer. Enron Energy of Houston, Texas was in charge of the job with workers traveling to Iowa from distances as far away as Texas and California to contribute their know-how to get the job done.

Just to give you a sense of the hugeness of this project here are some of the numbers. The size of each tower is astonishing compared to the windmills seen here in Iowa which usually range from 25 to 70 feet or so in height.

These towers stand about 208 feet high. They each weight 62 tons and are anchored in foundations made of thirty yards of cement. Nearly 52,000 tons of cement was purchased for the foundations on this project.

The total diameter of the three blades on each turbine is 164 feet, about the size of the wingspan of a jumbo jet. Each blade itself weighs 9,000 pounds and the hub or center piece that holds the blades weighs 13,000 pounds.

Due to the height of the towers, a lattice-type structure was used which could be transported to Iowa from Texas in sections and then assembled on the site. An extensive amount of road work needed to be done in order to get the equipment and supplies for construction to the farm fields where the towers were placed.

The blades rotate approximately once every two to three seconds. An example of an equivalent means of capturing wind power would be a sailing ship the size of a professional football field with a mast a mile high.

According to Enron, each tower will generate a minimum of two million kilowatt hours of power annually. The average home in the United States uses about 700 kilowatt hours a month which adds up to 8,400 a year. Therefore, each of these turbines can supply enough electricity for 225 homes a year.

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the project, Ken Hack, general manager for Enron Wind Development Project, noted that “this Iowa wind power project is the largest one of its kind in the world.” According to Jim Gossett, director of the Storm Lake Development Corporation, “Enron formed partnerships with existing companies, land owners, government entities and contractors, and has now put Alta on the map for wind power. Many individuals and groups will reap the benefits from Iowa’s newest crop.” Gossett went on to emphasize the economic benefits to the northwest Iowa area, “The economic impact of a project this size is astounding. With more than 300 construction jobs, local businesses and rental property owners have already realized the effect of the project. Once completed, about 25 permanent full-time workers will maintain and operate the facility. Enron will have an annual payroll of approximately $1.5 million. Land-owners are paid fees from Enron with guaranteed minimums and potential for more earnings based on production. Revenues to farmers are estimated to be in the neighborhood of $500,000 annually.”

The initial cost of this project took millions of dollars; the financing was a package which included grants and state and county support. With growing concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants, wind power can be an available alternative to meeting energy needs in some areas of our country. The state of Minnesota is seeking to obtain similar wind power facilities to replace their nuclear power plants that should be closed.

The obvious benefits of wind power are that there are no fuel costs or transportation, and very little maintenance of the facility is required once it is up and operating. Also, there is not the concern of environmental pollution associated with the use of fossil fuels. And best of all the wind is free and will never stop blowing.

The sight of these huge wind turbines is just one of the many ways the face of the Iowa landscape is changing as we prepare to enter the 21st century.