Chicago-based Invenergy is positioning itself to build a wind farm with up to 37 turbines and 60 megawatts of generating capacity in Johnson County.
The project is scheduled to be on the county planning commission’s agenda at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse in Tecumseh.
County Commissioner Terry Keebler of Sterling is among local officials sorting through details for a site that would occupy a ridgeline that passes within a few miles of his house.
“They’re talking construction somewhere between 2012 and 2017,” Keebler said on Friday, “so they’re giving themselves some leeway there.”
Invenergy is the same company that stepped forward in 2010 to take advantage of a new state law passed in a state known for its public power approach and aimed at private development of wind farms.
That earlier project, which has yet to reach the construction phase in Antelope and Boone counties, includes 133 wind turbines and a $448 million total investment.
In a prepared statement released Friday afternoon, Invenergy did not offer a dollar value for its Johnson County ambitions.
“Invenergy looks forward to the chance to contribute to the economic development in the area, and to generating clean, renewable energy in Nebraska,” the statement said.
“We believe Johnson County is an optimal location for the wind project with an excellent wind resource and strong community support.”
The turbines would provide enough power for about 18,000 homes, as well as a focal point for about 100 construction jobs and 6-8 jobs for operation and maintenance. Yearly tax revenue, according to Invenergy, would be worth about $3,500 per megawatt.
Obtaining a special use permit from the county is “a key milestone” for moving forward, the company said.
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union and an enthusiastic proponent of harnessing the state’s wind energy, said Nebraska still trails neighboring states in reaching that goal.
Nonetheless, it is far ahead of where it was five years ago, with an expectation of reaching 454 megawatts by the end of the year.
Whether Invenergy gets in on that actual construction action any time soon remains to be seen, Hansen said.
Finding a customer or customers willing to sign a power purchase agreement, which he called “the keys to the car,” is a major hurdle.
Attracting buyers always is a function of the economy, he said. “And so the fact that the economy is not growing makes it increasingly difficult to develop and sell wind into either Nebraska or other places when there’s now a surplus of generation capacity – in Nebraska and elsewhere.”
Rich Lombardi, Nebraska lobbyist for a regional Wind Coalition, said another key to developing the state’s wind resources is a congressional extension of a production tax credit scheduled to expire this year.
Lombardi acknowledged “a slowdown in wind projects all across the country. But that’s more driven by the production tax credit, not that there are obstacles in the state.”
Nebraska has tripled its wind energy production in the past four years, despite uncertainties about the federal incentive, he said.
“It’s a really intriguing time, because the prices of turbines have really gone down. And some of the newer turbines coming out – their efficiency is way up.”
County Commissioner Keebler said he and his peers stand ready to act on a planning recommendation and to hold their own public hearing, probably in March.
“Let the process play out here,” he said, “and we’ll see what we find out.”
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