COLUMBUS – Loup Public Power District’s newest contract with Nebraska Public Power District increases the percentage of power it can purchase from other sources, such as renewable energy, from 3 percent to 10 percent.
That gave LPPD the power to add more turbines to Creston Ridge and opened up the option to purchase power from the Monroe Powerhouse, a hydroelectric plant.
LPPD board members are cautiously optimistic about the utility’s ability to expand its wind generation and other renewable resources. Board member Mike Fleming anticipates learning more about the viability of wind through Creston Ridge.
“Now, instead of listening to stories about how it’s working, we can know firsthand how it’s working,” Fleming said. “I think that it is likely that more will come, but to be fair, right now we’re learning. I think it’s going to very, very good with all the studies and info we have thus far.”
Dick Tooley is a little more cautious than optimistic. He’d like to see how Creston Ridge, a small wind farm located near Creston, performs before committing any further.
“It’ll be interesting to study over the next couple years,” he said. “We’ll understand the value better when we get a track record to see how efficient it is to generate electricity.”
Because of concern over fossil fuels, Larry Zach said utilities will naturally develop more renewable energy. But the scale of that development depends on financial incentives.
“The wind generation industry is following the tax subsidies,” he said.
Because Nebraska’s power districts are publicly owned, they’re not able to develop their own wind farms and take advantage of the tax subsidies. They have to enter contracts with companies such as Omaha-based Bluestem Energy Solutions, the company behind Creston Ridge. Those companies build the turbines, harvest the power, take advantage of the subsidies, then sell the power to utilities at a fixed rate.
“Without subsidies, wind and solar can’t compete with existing power sources, so it depends on the future of those subsidies,” Zach said.
Ted Thieman said he’s “all for wind,” but utilities need to do a better job explaining to the general public the limits of renewable energy.
“The more we can utilize the better, but the public needs to understand that we need a base load to back it up,” he said. “Wind is an intermittent energy, so we need some backup energy.”
Currently, the technology does not exist to store energy generated by wind turbines, and the dominant backup power source is still coal-based plants.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some storage and some way of handling that in the future,” Thieman said.
While Jim Donoghue would like LPPD’s power to come from diverse sources, at the end of the day the cost of that energy for consumers is his and other board members’ priority.
“I would like to see a nice portfolio of wind, solar and hydro,” Donoghue said. “We currently have the wind and hydro, we could develop more if it’s economically feasible. If it’s not economical for the Loup payer … as part of the Loup board, we are very conscious of the rates.”
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