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Wind projects eyed near Steele City, Elgin

Two large wind energy projects are up for a vote this week by the boards of the state’s two largest electric utilities.

On Thursday, the Omaha Public Power District Board will vote on whether to buy 200 megawatts from Prairie Breeze Wind Farm near Elgin in northeast Nebraska.

OPPD would buy the electricity through a 25-year agreement with developer Invenergy of Chicago, with an option to buy the farm itself after 10 years.

The farm, set to begin operation in January 2014, will be the largest wind energy project for OPPD and will help the utility meet its goal of producing 10 percent of its power (400 megawatts) with renewable energy projects by 2020, OPPD spokeswoman Paula Lukowski said.

Now, OPPD has eight wind projects, totaling 212 megawatts, she said.

On Friday, the Nebraska Public Power District Board will vote on whether to authorize management to pursue a long-term agreement to buy as much as 75 megawatts from Prairie Breeze or from a future project that could be built near Steele City in Jefferson County, spokesman Mark Becker said.

NPPD began working on the project after a large industrial customer said it wanted to buy 25 megawatts to 35 megawatts of wind energy to meet its corporate goal of having 25 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy by 2013.

Becker declined to name that customer.

NPPD would sign a long-term agreement with a developer to buy any remaining electricity, he said. The industrial customer would sign a separate agreement with the developer.

“We have received a number of unsolicited proposals from wind developers in the last few months,” Becker said. “The prices are very competitive.”

Both the OPPD and NPPD agreements are contingent on a federal tax credit for wind projects set to expire at the end of this month. Wind developers and others are urging Congress to renew the Production Tax Credit.

“If the federal Production Tax Credit is extended,” Becker said, “we would anticipate that the wind farm would be in operation next year.”

NPPD has a strategic goal to produce 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy resources by 2020. It now has six wind energy projects, totaling 202 megawatts.