Nebraska conference touts benefits of wind and solar energy

Source: By Cole Epley, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2016

LINCOLN — Wind and solar have strong potential as homegrown sources of energy in Nebraska, but developers of that energy have work to do to convince more of the state’s residents of that potential, panelists at a conference said Monday.

Increased development of renewable energy in Nebraska can combat the potential physical and environmental harm from burning fossil fuels, and it can mean more jobs and property taxes for the state, State Sen. Ken Haar of Lincoln told the Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference and Exhibition.

For that to happen, opponents must first lay down their claims about ill health effects from wind turbines, he said. Lancaster County Board members passed new rules in late 2015 that effectively squeezed out any new wind development in the county by placing limits on the maximum noise allowed by turbines.

“We’ve got to get public health (officials) to look at the benefits of going to renewable, clean energy in terms of health and not just give the most conservative estimates they can find,” Haar said. “The science does not support bad health effects from wind turbine noise.”

State Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said that particular measure was made not in the interest of local landowners and residents but rather to “obfuscate and obliterate the opportunity for development in those areas.”

Schilz and Haar are both term-limited and will not return to the Legislature next year.

There were plenty of other clean-energy advocates from across the state in Lincoln on Monday, and attendees at the annual conference heard plans for continued growth of renewable energy at the state’s top public power utilities.

Tim Burke, president and chief executive of the Omaha Public Power District, said that even though the utility just closed down a major source of carbon-free electricity production at its Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, ratepayers can expect to have additional clean energy to backfill a portion of its lost capacity.

The Calhoun shutdown “begins our transformation in a new energy marketplace,” Burke said.

OPPD plans to replace just 46 percent of the nuclear plant’s 478-megawatt capacity, the majority of which will come from wind. The utility’s board of directors is expected to receive a presentation at its Nov. 17 meeting on how exactly that could come together.

Already, renewable sources’ share of generation at OPPD is poised to more than double, to 31 percent, when a 400-megawatt wind project is completed in Holt County. Berkshire Hathaway’s BHE Renewables Grande Prairie wind farm is expected to be online by the end of the year.

The approach at the Nebraska Public Power District is markedly different from OPPD’s, but President and Chief Executive Pat Pope said the Columbus utility could feasibly double or triple its goal of 10 percent renewables by letting its wholesale customers volunteer to get 10 percent of their peak energy from renewable sources.

“If all of our wholesale customers take full advantage of this provision we will probably exceed that goal by two or three times, so it will be very significant,” he said.