Building Energy, an Italian company involved in the production of renewable energy in Italy and numerous foreign markets, announced it has signed a partnership agreement with Optimum Renewables LLC, an Urbandale-based wind development company, for the development of a wind farm pipeline in Iowa.

Optimum Renewables plans to work with Building Energy to develop a series of medium-sized (4- to 5-megawatt) wind farms across the state to add a total capacity of about 50 megawatts of wind power in Iowa, the companies said in a release.

The project is the first significant step toward diversification into wind energy by Building Energy, which until now has concentrated primarily on solar projects, said Fabrizio Zago, the company's CEO.

Optimum Renewables will identify and select sites in Iowa, and Building Energy will act as the overall sponsor for the development of the wind farms, which will be wholly owned by Building Energy.

Iowa currently has 104 megawatts of small wind farms, the majority of them community wind projects, with more in the planning stages, said Harold Prior, executive director of the Iowa Wind Energy Association.

Prior said smaller projects such as Optimum Renewables' have become more prevalent because existing transmission capacity has yet to catch up with wind farm development in northwest Iowa, which has the highest wind capacity in the state.

"But in the rest of the state, these smaller farm can tap into existing transmission capacity where it's not an issue," he said. Utilities are working on three major transmission expansion projects in the state currently, with at least two of them scheduled for completion in 2017, Prior said.

In 2012, energy produced from wind farms in Iowa exceeded a total capacity of 5,100 megawatts, or 24.5 percent of the state's total energy production.