COLUMBUS – If the Nebraska landscape was covered with wind farms, the energy produced would not sustain the state’s energy needs, according to Ron Asche during a presentation Tuesday to the Columbus Noon Rotary.
Providing Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) position on energy generated from wind, Asche, NPPD president and CEO, highlighted reasons wind energy may provide supplemental support, but it will never become a primary source for generation.
“Look outside, there is not a lot of wind. You can guess where this is going,” Asche said to the crowd of about 50 people.
“There are high loads on the system today, but no wind,” he said. “Wind is not a very stable generation facility” as wind speeds and patterns can vary significantly from hour to hour and day to day, affecting energy production.
NPPD currently uses power from the Ainsworth wind farm owned by NPPD and a wind farm in Bloomfield created by private developer.
Asche said before the noon meeting he checked on the energy production levels of those farms, and neither wind farm was operating due to lack of wind.
“We need something more than zero generation to supply loads,” he said. “I am not an anti-wind or pro-wind advocate,” but the public should understand while wind holds potential, it will never replace the nuclear and coal-generating plants in the state.
According to the Southwest Power Pool, of which NPPD is a member, 100 percent reliability accreditation was granted to NPPD’s coal and nuclear plants.
“Our wind units received less than 5 percent accreditation from the power pool,” Asche said. “We can’t control wind as an energy supply,” so a “wind farm does not replace the need for reliable sources of energy generation.”
Also, wind units in Nebraska operate at 35-40 percent of their theoretical maximum production level. That number is better than the national average of 25-30 percent, but is not as efficient as the 85-90 percent rate of coal or 90-95 percent rate of nuclear plants, he said.
“I also hear people talking about how wind energy is ‘free,’” he said. While the “wind itself as a fuel source is free … wind generation is not free, and wind farms are not inexpensive.”
The cost for a single large wind generation unit can range from $2 million-$4 million, money spent in addition to maintaining and operating existing facilities.
In comparison, NPPD’s cost of producing a kilowatt-hour of energy is 4.5 cents at Cooper Nuclear Station, and 2.5-3.5 cents at its coal facilities, while the production cost at Ainsworth is 4.5 cents and the Bloomfield wind farm is 5-5.5 cents, which includes a 2 cent government subsidy.
Asche also commented on the law that went into effect in June allowing private developers to build wind farms in Nebraska to export wind-generated electricity to other states.
“I hope it lives up to the hype,” he said. “I don’t see a market for wind energy to be sold to neighboring states,” although the potential exists to export energy to large population centers, such as Chicago and Las Vegas.
Should the demand exist, Asche said, another obstacle exists – transmitting the energy.
“Ultimately, who is going to pay for that?” he said. “I don’t think (development) will happen as fast as people thought or hoped it would,” noting the recently activated transmission line between Columbus and Lincoln took 3 1/2 years to complete.
NPPD sees potential in wind generation, working toward its goal of 10 percent of NPPD’s energy portfolio generated from renewable sources, and continues to pursue wind development with the potential for wind farms near Crawford and Broken Bow in the coming years, but it will not be a final solution to the state’s energy needs, Asche said.
Wind has good attributes, he said, providing clean energy and contributing to rural economic development.
“Wind has a place to meet part of our energy needs in Nebraska and the country,” Asche said, “but it still has its challenges.”
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