The Center for Rural Affairs isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with the Nebraska Public Power District on what future energy generation in the state should look like.
NPPD said the most cost effective and reliable energy source is coal, but Johnathan Hladik – an energy policy advocate with the Center for Rural Affairs – said wind energy would better serve the state.
“A commitment to coal is a commitment to Wyoming, where we spend hundreds of millions each year purchasing coal,” Hladik said. “Nebraska lags far behind neighboring states in developing our wind resources, missing out on considerable economic opportunity in the process.”
Hladik and colleague John Crabtree recently stopped at the Daily News as part of a trip around the state to encourage Nebraska residents to voice their opinion on the matter.
Prompting their action was the publication of NPPD’s preliminary results from a generation options analysis. Among other things, it said that investing in long-term pollution control equipment at the Gerald Gentleman coal-fired energy station in west-central Nebraska appeared to be more cost-effective than ceasing operations or installing short-term technologies.
Although the station currently meets federal and state air pollution and water quality standards and regulations, NPPD is preparing for additional regulations that could necessitate $1.5 billion of additional control equipment at the plant near Sutherland.
Hladik said he would like to see some of that money go toward other energy resources, particularly wind. Nebraska has the fourth-best wind energy resources in the U.S., but it ranks 25th in developing them.
The Gerald Gentleman station consists of two coal-fired power generating units. Hladik said he recommends refurbishing one unit to meet energy standards, retiring the other unit and using half of the unused money to purchase wind energy and increase the number of energy efficiency programs in Nebraska.
“We’re not here to say there can be no coal, but that NPPD should not lock all of their resources into one thing for 30 years,” Hladik said.
Caring for the environment is not the only reason for taking such a stance, Hladik said. Investing in wind energy draws manufacturers to the area, provides numerous jobs and boosts the economy in rural areas, he added.
Hladik said NPPD representatives were negative toward clean energy during several open houses earlier this year and presented conflicting figures to the public, which appeared to make wind energy investments more expensive than coal energy.
According to NPPD, replacing Gerald Gentleman Station with all wind energy would cost $4 billion.
“That’s just not true,” Hladik said.
The number is factored on the basis that NPPD would build the wind turbines, instead of purchase the energy from another company that builds the turbine and fronts the construction costs – which is what NPPD does with three of the four wind farms currently in service – he added.
However, Traci Bender – the chief financial officer at NPPD – said the numbers are actually basically correct because NPPD still pays for capital and operating costs at wind farms where they purchase power.
Bender also said wind energy is variable and cannot be relied on or included in the company’s total dispatchable energy figures because sometimes the wind isn’t blowing. All wind energy sources have to have coal, natural gas, or hydro power backing them up for when the wind doesn’t blow, and this incurs additional costs.
These stand as negative characteristics when energy reliability and low cost are the primary drivers in NPPD’s decisions, Bender said.
Repairing wind turbines also creates additional costs, said Mark Becker, NPPD media relations specialist. They are more than 200 feet in the air, and people either have to be lifted up to the turbine or a crane has to bring the turbine down to fix it.
“Wind turbines are like a car,” he said. “Eventually, they will break down.”
NPPD recognizes the importance of renewable energy, Becker said, and has set a goal to have 10 percent renewable energy generation by 2020, but it does not plan to replace coal with wind.
The generation options analysis recognized this goal, Becker said. It was the precursor to an integrated resource plan, which is being developed and will be finalized next spring. The plan outlines the most favorable approach for adding resources to meet future native load requirements in the next 20 years while minimizing cost and risk.
Refurbishing the Gerald Gentleman Station is looking to be one of the best options to include in the plan, Becker said, but any resource plan will also include renewable energy and energy efficiency components.
Hladik said he wants to ensure plans for wind energy are not pushed to the side. People need to send comments to NPPD on the importance of renewable energy, he said.
“Our (Center for Rural Affairs) primary interest is in putting the public back into public power,” he said. “The public needs to have a voice. Now is a really crucial time.”
According to Becker, NPPD welcomes these comments and the board has already looked at over 1,000 comments addressing Nebraska’s future energy profile.
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