Tapping the wind for energy is an area ripe for development in Nebraska says Governor Dave Heineman.
“Wind energy is another alternative energy source we need to take a look at,” said Heineman at the Nebraska Farmers Union state convention this week. This conventions theme was farmer- and community-owned renewable energy.
Nebraska’s ethanol industry is poised to be the nation’s second-leading ethanol producer this year, but Nebraska’s governor thinks there’s plenty of room left to develop the state’s wind-energy potential.
Nebraska currently ranks 18th in the nation with 73 megawatts of electricity from wind energy. But the state is ranked sixth in the nation for its wind energy potential.
In comparison, the nation’s largest wind farm, which is located along the state line of Oregon and Washington, annually produces 300 megawatts of electricity from wind energy.
One of the challenges facing Nebraska, Heineman told the Grand Island Independent newspaper, is that federal tax credits used to construct wind energy farms are only available to private-sector companies.
Nebraska, however, is the nation’s only public-power state, Heineman said, and those tax credits to build wind energy farms would not be available.
Officials from the Nebraska Public Power District and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln may be part of the wind-energy solution. This year they formed a partnership called the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research. NPPD will provide $5 million during the next five years to support various research initiatives under the partnership with the University.
Heineman said he has discussed with Nebraska Public Power District officials and Nebraska Farmers Union finding a way to restructure how those federal tax credits are received so NPPD can take advantage of them.
NPPD operates a wind farm in Ainsworth with a consortium of municipal utilities.
“It is going to take a while to sort that all out,” Heineman said of the federal tax credits. “Nebraska has a huge potential with wind energy. We are all interested in pursing that in a logical and thoughtful manner that makes it profitable.”
And Heineman wants to pursue a model for wind energy development that calls for local ownership, whether it be community-based or by ag producers themselves.
“The more local ownership we have in that structure, the better off we are,” he said. “I have seen it in a number of ethanol plants in this state, and it’s a good model. We need more local ownership.”
To get the wind energy off to the kind of dramatic growth the ethanol industry has seen in Nebraska, Heineman said, “It’s not that we need legislation. We are going to have to continue to find a way to make it profitable in the long term to those who are going to invest their money.”
Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen said developing the wind energy industry in Nebraska has to be done in a way that preserves NPPD’s integrity but allows for community-based energy development and ownership of the wind energy projects.
“We need to develop wind energy in this state in the fashion of community-based ownership and find a way to take advantage of those private-sector incentives that our public-power state can’t use,” he said.