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Nebraskans’ quest for wind power is 
far from a breeze

Drive across Iowa, passing wind turbines by the hundreds, and it doesn’t take long to see the Hawkeye State is blowing Nebraska away when it comes to wind power.

“Are the people in Iowa that much brighter than we are?’’ asked State Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha. “It’s baffling to me.’’

It’s pretty much the same in Wyoming and Colorado, which is a constant source of consternation to those in Nebraska who believe the state needs to develop more “green energy.’’

But such renewable energy advocates said during a conference in Omaha on Thursday they’ve been heartened by some recent developments in the state.

With some significant wind farms recently coming on line and others in the works, Nebraska is on track for more than 1,300 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2017. That’s still far below that of Iowa and many other states, but it’s nearly triple what Nebraska had just two years ago, said John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

“It’s the biggest development spurt we’ve had, a significant amount of additional wind power,’’ said Hansen, whose organization co-sponsored the eighth annual Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference.

There was much talk among the 500 conference participants Thursday about other opportunities for renewable energy growth, particularly with the increasing concerns about global climate change and new federal regulations seeking to reduce greenhouse gases.

But others also warned of the hurdles that remain, including a new challenge posed by opposition to the local siting of wind turbines. It’s often referred to as NIMBY: not in my backyard.

“The NIMBY people have a lot of passion right now,’’ said State Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, noting current efforts to stop a private wind development in Lancaster County.

Given the threat that global climate change poses to agriculture in Nebraska, some conference participants said the fierceness of some opponents of renewable energy is hard to understand. Opponents in the Legislature last year successfully filibustered a bill to create state tax credits for renewable energy production, despite broad support for the proposal.

“It doesn’t matter if climate change is a man-made problem or not – we have to deal with it,’’ said State Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis. Backers plan to bring back the bill next year.

Representatives of the state’s major public utilities Thursday touted their recent efforts to boost their renewable energy portfolios, spurred in part by anticipation of the emission limits contained in the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The utilities said they believe the state can reach the federal targets, which call for Nebraska by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions some 40 percent below 2005 levels. But for a state that has long relied on cheap-burning coal, the price tag is likely high.

“We all believe we can meet that goal,’’ said Kevin Wailes, the chief executive of Lincoln Electric System. “The question is ‘What’s it going to cost?’ ’’