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Wind power needs to be added economically

I have read with interest the differing viewpoints regarding wind power that have been expressed this past week in newspapers and elsewhere.

I am in no way opposing wind as an alternative energy resource. However, adding wind needs to be done in an economic fashion that does not overshadow or restrict other alternatives for cleaner energy. We need to get away from the “all-or-nothing” attitude that seems to prevail over the issue of wind power. It seems that proponents want the wind alternative at any cost, and we should be “all-in”. Should individuals disagree with the timing, amount or cost of wind energy, we are characterized as wanting nothing to do with renewables and are, therefore, against the environment. This could not be farther from the truth.

The basic environmental concern seems to be with the amount of carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere. If that is the case, we should be focused on all generation resources that help to reduce the growth in global carbon levels. We support a clean environment and have been in favor of a number of proposals, including clean-coal alternatives, which enhance the goal of reducing electric generation’s carbon footprint.

Nebraska Public Power District’s current generation resource portfolio is nearly 50 percent carbon-free. With the goal of 10 percent renewables by 2020, that number will rise to nearly 55 percent. I would challenge those pointing the finger at Nebraska for their lack of environmental stewardship to observe this fact. Then I would suggest they direct their efforts toward other states that aren’t even close to this record and demand that other states come to our level.

It also would be helpful if we could consider the bigger picture. We cannot change our resource portfolios overnight. If supported by the public in general, as opposed to the vocal few, we can make a transition over a reasonable period in the future. To do so too quickly would drive rates up and hurt an already fragile economy.

Electric utilities have done this in the past, during the oil crisis of the 1970s. They went from having 60+ percent of their generation resources being fueled by oil, to something less than 2 percent across the country today. The electric industry was the only one to make such a profound difference. We did so through the use of coal generation and were applauded for it. Everyone forgets that and now demonizes where we are today.

Give us the time, without threats and penalties, and we once again can make a responsible transition that can benefit all consumers of electricity. Global coal usage is part of that larger picture. Someone will have to explain to us how shutting down coal plants in the United States and freeing up more exports of coal to countries such as China and India to burn in their plants helps the overall global climate.

There are a couple of other points that should be addressed. NPPD and its customers do, in fact, pay the capital costs, maintenance and operation costs of the wind farms. Those costs, as well as a risk component, are a part of the negotiated rate contained in the power purchase agreements and are paid for by NPPD. There is nothing free about wind power.

A very important second point is that wind only generates approximately 40 percent of the time and would require the cost of backup generating plants. The cost of current wind projects and those projected in the near future (with backup plants), even with federal tax credits, would be more expensive than the blended cost of the resources in our present generation portfolio.

The Nebraska Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative and its members are indeed concerned about our environment and the future need for electric generation. We have boards of directors, public bodies elected by retail customers to represent them, and those boards want to make sure that any future generation is proposed and built in a responsible, cost-effective manner.

Bruce A. Pontow is general manager of Nebraska Electric Generation and Transmission in Columbus.