Local View: LES should use Nebraska wind

Source: By SEN. KEN HAAR, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2014

 First, the good news. The Lincoln Electric System (LES) is to be congratulated on its announcement Friday that it will add 173 megawatts of wind and five megawatts of solar energy to its portfolio.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s number for “the current national average,” this is enough electricity to power 29,000 homes. It is good news on three fronts:

* First, adding wind and solar at fixed costs over the 25-year wind contract with Invenergy and the 20-year solar contract with HelioSage Energy is a prudent hedge against the increase in fossil fuel costs; we know that the cost of coal has more than doubled in the past decade and will continue to rise as the cost of coal extraction, transportation and the regulation of harmful emissions from coal continue to increase.

* Second, moving to renewables demonstrates to our children and grandchildren that we are taking climate change and the well-being of future generations seriously. Neither wind or solar generate CO2 nor do they use water — both important factors in mitigating climate change.

* Finally, we consistently hear the myth that renewables will raise the cost of electricity; this is false. Instead, in the announcement we are told that going to renewables will save ratepayers $420 million over the next 25 years. Recent decisions by the Omaha Public Power District also show that renewables are not only a good hedge against the rising costs of fossil fuels, but the lowest-cost option!

Then, the disappointing news.

The entire wind purchase of 173 megawatts should have been from Nebraska wind farms, instead of 100 megawatts from Kansas and only 73 megawatts from Nebraska. Nebraska wind benefits not only rural Nebraska in the form of land rental for turbines, property tax relief and jobs, it benefits all Nebraskans.

While the purchase of Kansas wind may perhaps save some money for LES customers, the National Renewable Energy Lab has calculated that a 100-megawatt wind project would bring between $87 million and $186 million in economic development to Nebraska. When added to the wind purchase from Oklahoma announced earlier this year, this is a total of $174 million to $372 million in economic benefit that went out of state instead of into Nebraska’s economy.

Lincoln is not an economic island, it is a direct beneficiary of economic downstream development from the rest of the state. The state-wide investment in the University of Nebraska, state government, and the money that flows into Lincoln during Cornhusker sporting events are just a few examples of the many ways that economic development in Nebraska flows directly into the Lincoln economy.

The Omaha Public Power District and the Nebraska Public Power District both used the same state statutes that govern all of public power in making the up-front choice to buy 100% of their wind power from Nebraska wind farms. There are many of us in the Legislature that don’t understand why LES chose not to make the same up-front decision to buy home-grown Nebraska wind.

State Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm represents Nebraska’s Legislative District 21.