Editorial: Nebraska must capitalize on wind energy

Source: By Editorial Board Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Friday, May 12, 2017

Now that Nebraska has crossed the gigawatt threshold — 1 billion watts — of wind energy production, it’s time for the state to shoot even higher.

The Cornhusker State became the 18th state to reach that milestone this year when turbines at a 400-plus-megawatt wind farm in Holt County began spinning. But Nebraska should continue its aggressive surge to be far more than just above average when it comes to wind energy.

Yes, this state faces hurdles — most notably, landowner opposition and its unique approach of public power districts. But Nebraska has too much yet-to-be-tapped potential to let those speed bumps derail future growth.

With the fourth-highest wind potential of any state and nation-leading efficiency of wind energy production, Nebraska is already seeing the benefits of development. Nearly 600 additional megawatts are in development, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, placing the state near the 2-gigawatt mark if and when all come to fruition.

Because of its nonprofit public power districts, Nebraska battles an obstacle that no other state faces because they’re unable to receive federal wind production tax credits like for-profit enterprises, such as those powering neighboring Iowa — which produces more than a third of its electricity from wind energy.

Instead, Lincoln Electric System and its fellow utilities sign contracts to purchase wind power from private companies that can.

That investment in renewable energy, primarily wind, has allowed LES to have far more megawatts available for sale than it needs to meet demand. Nearly half of the utility’s demand is met with sustainable energy sources — a win-win for the environment and consumers alike.

Accordingly, LES and NPPD will vote today on an agreement that is expected to end Lincoln’s use of a coal-fired plant near Hallam. Those megawatts simply are no longer needed and won’t be for the foreseeable future, largely because of growth in Nebraska-harnessed wind energy.

Within the last five years, Nebraska has already seen wind energy increase from less than 3 percent to more than 10 percent of its power generation. That figure should only continue to rise, as should Nebraska’s position — again, 18th — in the wind energy field.

Nebraska has a bright future in terms of capitalizing upon one of its chief exports, winds whipping across the prairie. State officials and business leaders must continue tapping into that potential to realize a benefit that stretches from border to border.