Nebraskans have a long history with wind energy development. As pioneers, many farmers and ranchers tapped into Nebraska’s high wind potential by capturing the wind with small chargers for energy purposes. Other farmers, such as my own family, put up windmills to help pump water for livestock, drinking, and even laundry.
Because the State Legisature passed LB 1048 in the spring there is new ‘energy’ for wind development in Nebraska. To give due credit, several early polls indicated that Nebraskans have been energized about wind energy for years. Acccording to the 2003 NPPD Deliberative poll, an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans polled (over 80%) were in favor of wind energy.
Even Governor Heineman in his July 2, 2010 weekly address expressed excitement over Nebraska moving forward with wind energy development. He cited our existing 152MW’s (megawatts) of wind energy and another 260MW’s that are to be developed by 2014. However, that will put the state with the 6th most wind potential in the country up to only 412MW’s developed. This would likely still leave Nebraska trailing in wind energy generation output compared to all the states it touches.
Nebraska presents a unique situation. Since we are the only state with 100% publicly owned power, it has been a challenge accessing tax credits needed to spur wind development in our state. However, C-BED legislation passed into law in 2007 gave Nebraskans a way to team up with private-sector developers in order to utilize those important tax credits.
Challenges still remain, particularly in finding markets to sell wind energy. There are primarily 3 markets available to sell wind energy to: the national, regional, and state markets.
In brief, LB 1048 cleared barriers to help Nebraska export its massive wind potential to the national market. However, we don’t currently have the grid infrastructure in place to capitalize on our potential, and new grid is expensive. Outside of a few discussions to privately fund large transmission lines from Nebraska to more highly populated areas of the U.S., exportation to a national market still seems to be a decade or more down the road.
Likewise, the regional market is a tough sell because every state in our region is also in the high wind corridor and therefore does not need our wind energy. And they certainly aren’t demanding it.
That means that the best scenario of wind development in Nebraska’s near future is to create opportunities that would develop the state market.
Under C-BED, Nebraska is one of two states (Minnesota being the other) where citizens can have significant ownership in wind farms. As a publicly-owned energy state, Nebraska citizens have a golden opportunity to actually play into this state market and put more money back into their communities.
Now that LB 1048 has passed, the legislature should focus on passing legislation that will spur Nebraska wind development in the near-term, which means in-state development. This will keep profit centers at home and keep wind production moving forward.
Work must be done at the federal level, too. As the levels of emissions continue to rise through our reckless energy production habits, we see minimal progress from Congress. Now is the time to call for comprehensive climate and energy legislation that will reduce emissions thus spurring the growth of non-emitting energy sources such as wind, solar, and bio-fuels.
Comprehensive legislation has passed the House but has been stagnant in the Senate. The Senate is hoping to have a bill introduced in two weeks. Wind’s largest subsidy is putting a price on carbon because it levels out the playing field between carbon-based and non-emitting energy sources. Putting a price on carbon and maximizing wind energy development go hand-in-hand. Energy legislation must also address climate concerns.
There is no doubt our country has many problems regarding energy policy today. The good news is that Nebraska holds many of the solutions and sits in the epicenter of renewable energy development. If Nebraskans are to continue our deep tradition of independent thinking, we must step up in this time of energy transition.
Nebraskans are leaders. So it only makes sense that we become more sustainable in energy, rid ourselves of our reliance on foreign energy sources, keep the maximum amount of our money in-state, and lead the movement for a cleaner environment for future generations.
Ownership in wind and renewable energy does matter, and it is our greatest opportunity yet. However, it cannot be accomplished without the people of our great state demanding a new energy direction.