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BPW scraps wind turbine agreement

Plans to generate wind energy in Gage County to power Beatrice may have hit a snag as the Board of Public Works is recommending the city not move forward with the project.

Beatrice has been working with Bluestem Energy Solutions, the company that would build and maintain up to three turbines, with discussions that all energy would be purchased by the city.

These discussions, however, were largely based on figures related to the city’s current energy provider, Nebraska Public Power District.

Beatrice has since decided to change energy providers, reaching an agreement with AEP Energy Partners Inc., based out of Columbus, Ohio, last year.

With the change, City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said the economics of the project are no longer beneficial.

“We sat down and reviewed the economics of this project,” he said. “With NPPD, the numbers made sense, when we look out at what we have in front of us with AEP and the market, the numbers don’t make as much sense as they did beforehand.”

The BPW ultimately voted unanimously to recommend not entering into an agreement with Bluestem.

This decision will be referred to the City Council for final consideration, which is expected to be included on the council’s next meeting agenda on Monday, Dec. 5.

Under the proposal, Bluestem would have initially built one 2-megawatt turbine with all energy produced sold to Beatrice at a fixed price for 25 years.

Initial plans only called for one turbine because the city’s contract with NPPD caps the amount of renewable energy available at 2 megawatts. When that contract ends, adding two more turbines was planned.

Beatrice will gradually reduce the amount of energy purchased from NPPD as it purchases more from AEP, completing the transition when its NPPD contract expires in 2021.

Tempelmeyer added that three turbines is a smaller project for the company, which led to infrastructure costs that were cost prohibitive.

“There’s so much infrastructure you have to put in with one turbine or three turbines, you can’t spread that out like you can with 50-100 wind turbines,” he explained. “That impacts their numbers. They know what they’re constrained with. At this point, I don’t know if it makes the most sense.”

The issue raised an outcry of confusion in early November when Bluestem began preliminary work at the proposed site of the first turbine, around five miles northeast of Beatrice, without notifying landowners or getting a building permit from the county.

Tempelmeyer previously said that in 2016, a 100 percent federal tax credit is available to Bluestem for the project. That credit drops to 80 percent if work starts after 2016, so some preliminary work was done at the proposed site to show that construction started this calendar year.

He also stressed at that time that nothing was official. On Wednesday BPW member Bob Moran said Bluestem may be disappointed in the board’s decision, but shouldn’t be surprised.

“Before we decided to leave Nebraska Public Power, the numbers worked,” he said. “There is no financial benefit to us proceeding with this. They knew and we knew that there was nothing guaranteed. They knew they had to move dirt to get tax credit. They also knew this vote could happen.”

Tempelmeyer said the city may have to pay Bluestem up to $28,000 for the planning already done.

He also pointed out that if the council rejects the agreement Monday night, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of “green” energy in Beatrice.

Although it may not be produced here, the city may still consider purchasing wind or solar energy from other locations that would be transmitted to Beatrice.