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Public utilities pose roadblock to wind energy, advocate says

A national wind-energy advocate blasted Nebraska for not doing more to turn its stiff breezes into power, placing much of the blame on Nebraska’s dominant electric utility.

While adjoining states such as Iowa and Colorado have hundreds of wind turbines, and the policies in place to encourage more, Nebraska has less than 50 and should not “bury it’s head in the sand, or the coalfields, for that matter,” Dan McGuire told members of the Nebraska Farmers Union gathered in Grand Island for an annual convention.

Nebraska ranks sixth among all states for wind generated, McGuire said, “but the Cornhusker state is lagging way behind other states,” in the development of wind farms, he said.

McGuire is executive director of the American Corn Growers Foundation and Wealth from the Wind, a program of the corn grower’s group. He has Nebraska roots, having pushed for ethanol development in the state and once serving as executive director of the state wheat board.

When talking about wind energy, McGuire said, officials in other states often ask him “What’s wrong with Nebraska?”

Nothing, says a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Public Power District, the largest electric utility in the state that provides electricity to about 1 million people in the state.

McGuire said NPPD and rural electrical cooperatives have been fighting development of wind farms.

The utility owns a 36-turbine wind farm near Ainsworth that began operating earlier this year, NPPD spokeswoman Jeanne Schieffer said. She also said the utility promotes research of wind energy, often considers proposals for wind farms and generally wants more renewable energy to be used in the state.

Costs, especially of new power transmission lines, must be taken into account when considering new wind farms, she said.

“We continue to study it and we’ve been studying it for a long time,” Schieffer said of wind energy. “We’ll add renewables when it’s most cost effective for our customers.”

Nebraska is the only state where all electric customers are served by publicly owned utilities.

While Nebraska is positioned to be a possible leader in wind energy, Gov. Dave Heineman said during the convention Friday, it faces unique challenges. Federal financial incentives for wind energy, he said, are available only to private companies.

That doesn’t justify the state’s scant development of wind farms, said Robert Byrnes. He owns Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems, which helps develop wind farms.

“Forty states have figured this out,” he said after listening to Heineman, “a lot with a heck of a lot less than we have.”

McGuire said he and other wind-energy advocates had wanted to avoid going to the Nebraska Legislature with proposals to encourage more wind-farm development but may do so.

By Nate Jenkins
Associated Press Writer