Norfolk mayor Josh Moenning recently stepped away from his executive director’s position with the 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska coalition to head up a group he helped found last year.
Moenning now serves as the director of New Power Nebraska, a company that promotes the development of the wind energy industry in Nebraska.
In addition to his mayoral duties, Moenning continues to serve on the board of directors of 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska, which has worked to promote expressways throughout the state, including the completion of Highway 275 from east of Pilger to south of Scribner.
But a main focus for him now is New Power Nebraska and its efforts to educate people about the benefits of wind energy, Moenning said.
“A lot of our work is education and awareness,” he said. “People who aren’t that familiar with how it all works can gain a level of familiarity with the industry.”
Moenning said he has been personally interested in renewable energy development for years, and also became more familiar with the industry when he worked for U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln.
“I’ve just had a natural interest in (renewable energy) for a long time,” Moenning said. “A lot of my interest lies in the fact that it helps develop new opportunities in rural Nebraska.”
Moenning said new wind farms can bring as many as 20 new jobs to rural communities, such as Elgin, O’Neill and others.
“There’s definitely a local and regional economic development benefit from it,” he said.
Wind farms also lead to new income sources for landowners who own the land where the wind farm turbines are located and receive lease payments.
According to New Power Nebraska, about $17 million has been paid to farmers and landowners throughout the state by wind developers.
Wind farms also lead to a new source of tax revenue, Moenning said.
“This takes some burden away from property tax payers, and helps communities with their roads and schools,” he said.
Nebraska ranks among the highest in the country in wind energy potential, as the state sees consistently high wind speeds throughout its borders. But compared to neighboring states, Moenning said, Nebraska is underdeveloped.
But the industry is growing, he said.
The total power capacity generated by wind farms is set to double within the next few years, Moenning said. Currently, wind farms generate 1,500 megawatts in Nebraska, which makes up about 15 percent of the state’s energy production. That amount of power is enough to power about 487,000 homes.
“It’s been tremendous growth,” Moenning said. “We’re one of only seven states set to double our wind energy capacity.”
Two big factors in the growth of the industry is both the declining cost of developing wind energy, which has decrease about 70 percent from 10 years ago, and that more private corporations are demanding more renewable energy sources.
Moenning said wind energy also directly helps Norfolk, as wind projects in nearby counties bring workers who contribute to the community.
“They’re coming to Norfolk, living here, eating in our restaurants,” Moenning said. “I would say that was a factor in the significant sales tax receipts last year.”
Additionally, Northeast Community College also benefits, because it is the only college in Nebraska that offers a specific degree for wind energy.
Overall, Moenning said the perception about wind energy is changing.
“A lot of people and farmers in particular are seeing this as an opportunity to take advantage of our natural resources and, frankly, get compensated for it,” he said.
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