Nebraska has bright renewable energy future, leaders say

Source: By MATT OLBERDING, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Nebraska is continuing to grow its renewable energy footprint, particularly when it comes to wind and solar.

“There’s a lot of upside potential in our state because we have tremendous wind and solar resources,” John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, told attendees at the 2019 Nebraska Wind & Solar Conference and Exhibition.

Hundreds of business executives, community leaders, landowners and others are attending the two-day event at the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in Lincoln.

The kickoff speaker for the conference was Amy Farrell, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association.

Nebraska for several years has lagged in wind power usage compared with potential, but that is changing. The state tied Rhode Island last year for the biggest year-over-year percentage gain in wind power capacity (39%) and ranked fifth for overall installation growth with more than 500 megawatts added last year.

“You guys have a really, really excellent resource here,” Farrell said.

She showed a Power Point presentation that quantified the amount of wind power in use in the state and what future growth looks like.

Nebraska gets 14.5% of its power from wind energy, which is more than twice the national average and more than all but 12 states. However, it lags many of its neighbors. Kansas gets 36.4% of its power from wind, Iowa gets 33.7%, South Dakota gets 24.4% and Colorado gets 17.3%.

That percentage is likely to grow, though, as Nebraska has more than 1,000 megawatts of wind power either under construction or in advanced development, which will increase capacity over the existing amount of 1,972 megawatts by more than 50%.

The state also has good support from wind energy from its publicly owned utilities. Nebraska’s three largest power companies — Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System — all rank in the top 10 among publicly owned utilities nationally for wind energy purchases.

And Nebraska is seeing increasing interest from corporate purchasers of wind power, Farrell said. That includes tech companies like Facebook, which is purchasing 200 megawatts of wind energy from the Rattlesnake Creek wind farm in Dixon County in northeast Nebraska, and more traditional companies such as Hormel Foods, which will buy power from a wind farm near Milligan that’s scheduled to open next year.

While Tuesday’s sessions were focused on wind power, Hansen did talk a little about solar power, which is poised for a huge growth spurt in the state.

A proposed 230-megawatt solar farm has been approved east of Lincoln that would be the state’s largest, although it may not be for long.

Earlier this month, OPPD announced plans to develop a solar farm that will produce 400-600 megawatts of power by 2023.

Hansen said he’s been saying for some time that solar is on the verge of “breaking out.”

“I think solar has arrived,” he said.