Gov. Heineman signed a bill Monday encouraging communities to develop the wind turbines that generate electricity.
The new law financially encourages towns and landowners to develop a “field” of turbines, working in conjunction with Nebraska’s public power companies.
Under that model, rural Nebraskans would own the development and not sell the wind rights to private companies.
The bill recently passed the Legislature, 49-0.
Heineman said it will maximize the rural benefits of wind power.
Community-owned wind turbines merge better with the public power companies “that have served our state so well,” said Nebraska Farmer’s Union president John Hansen, whose group backed the bill.
“We are looking forward to many years of collaborative efforts between C-BED wind energy projects and our public utilities,” Hansen said.
One C-BED project in Knox County, in far northeastern Nebraska, is in the final planning stages.
A wind generator typically pays for itself in 10 years and could generate profits for another 10-20 years before it wears out, Hansen has said.
Nebraska is ripe for wind turbines. It is the sixth windiest state in the United States.
More wind blows in Nebraska than in 38 other states combined, said Dave Rich, the renewable energy manager for the Nebraska Public Power District, the state’s largest power company.
Rich has been handling twice the number of inquiries about windmill generators than NPPD did in 2006. About a dozen per week arrived in April. Some people wanted to explore erecting a single wind turbine on their land, while others envisioned large-scale farms with dozens, even hundreds, of generators spread across the hills.
A federal study estimates C-BED wind energy projects create 2.6 times as many local jobs as projects developed by outside investors. C-BED projects are relatively common in Minnesota, where they have stimulated three times as much local economic development as those from outside investors.
“If we do this right, the winds will expand Nebraska’s economic and income base, bring kids back home and keep farmers and ranchers on the land. The potential earnings are enormous,” Hansen has said.
Tough go alone
At present, it is not financially rewarding for individuals to install a single wind generator, Rich said. Nebraska’s electric rates are generally so low that it takes several windmills to generate a profit.
Rich compared erecting a single wind turbine to buying a hot tub.
“You might build one because it makes you feel good,” he said.
Rich said NPPD analyzes all kinds of wind projects ““ big, small, private or semi-pubic ““ from the same perspective. NPPD estimates what it can pay for wind-electricity from generators, and if nearby transmission lines are big enough to carry the power into the statewide grid of power lines.
New transmission lines are expensive to construct, costing from $250,000 to $1 million a mile, he said.
Participants in the C-BED project in Knox County have been lined up for nearly a year, but the new law was needed to make the project a “go” ““ clarifying a framework for cooperation so the entity could borrow money, receive tax credits and do business.
On average it takes two years to develop a wind turbine project, Rich said – several months of planning plus a year or more for construction.
by George Lauby
North Platte Bulletin
21 May 2007
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