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Nebraska’s perplexing wind energy situation

The recent vote by the Nebraska Public Power District to reject proposals to increase the district’s wind energy purchases highlights the challenges of wind power in Nebraska.

One side of the wind energy debate argues that Nebraska has great wind resources, which would translate into low energy prices. Johnathan Hladik, the senior policy advocate for the Center for Rural Affairs, says our state deserves better.

“It was a demoralizing loss, that’s for sure,” Hladik said. “Nebraska has done a terrible job of developing their wind resources and taking advantage of the wind in their backyards.”

On the other side of the debate, Mark Becker, with Nebraska Public Power District, said the NPPD board is committed to adding wind energy within the state.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have wind in the future,” Becker said.

According to Becker, the lack of tax incentives for wind developers is one of many reasons Nebraska lags behind other states in the region. That Nebraska is the only public-power state in the U.S. also contributes to the difficulties. The third often-cited reason is transmission lines.

“The area with the greatest amount of wind has the least transmission lines,” Becker said.

Hladik believes people would benefit substantially from wind farms and resources in their communities.

Critics of wind power claim wind isn’t reliable, that it doesn’t blow consistently. But, according to Hladik, what those opponents don’t mention is that Nebraska is connected to a regional power market that stretches across many states. Hladik says most likely the wind will always be blowing somewhere in the states they sell power to and buy power from.

Nebraska energy is sometimes purchased from plants in Oklahoma and Kansas that are part of the regional power market. NPPD buys and sells on this market and, according to Hladik, wind power is the cheapest power for sale.

According to the official Nebraska government website, Nebraska ranks 26th in installed capacity of wind in the country.

The Kimball wind farm is owned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which is separate from NPPD.

The wind farm is relatively small. Its seven turbines generate around 10.5 megawatts.

Becker said it’s probably not maxing out the transmission capacity for the surrounding area.

One of the main points Becker focuses on is the difficulty in storing wind energy.

“You can not dispatch wind energy generation,” he said. “With wind energy you need it now, compared to nuclear and coal.

“If you want to rely on wind you’re going to have to change your lifestyle, when you use your energy.”

When it comes to the regional market that Hladik mentioned above, Becker said the prices are soft. Wind energy is selling for $20 a megawatt hour when a few years ago it was selling for $40-50 a megawatt hour.

That might explain why Lincoln Electric System, the power company that services the city of Lincoln, announced in July it is buying 100 megawatts of wind energy from Oklahoma.