Nebraska public power district pressed to expand wind power

Source: Paul Hammel, WORLD-HERALD BUREAU • Posted: Friday, April 27, 2012

LINCOLN — A coalition of Nebraska environmental and farm groups called on the state’s largest utility to develop more wind power to address future energy needs instead of relying on coal-fired power plants.

The group said Thursday that the Nebraska Public Power District should consider clean energy alternatives rather than spend $1.5 billion to retrofit existing coal-fired power plants to deal with new environmental regulations.

“It makes good sense to send more money to rural Nebraska landowners for wind development and less money to coal mine owners in Wyoming,” said John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union president.

“We have an enormous rural economic development opportunity. Our state ought to take advantage of our own world-class energy resources.”

He commented after an open house hosted by NPPD in Lincoln to gather comments on the utility’s future plans to generate energy.

Utility spokesman Mark Becker said those plans had not yet been finalized, but every option being considered includes wind power as well as increased energy efficiencies.

Under state law, Becker said, Nebraska public utilities are required to utilize the “least-cost option” for generating electricity, and that option is coal.

“We’d rather have a diverse mix of energy resources than one source,” he said. “There are days in Nebraska when the wind does not blow. We’re going to have to have coal plants and natural gas plants.”

The Farmers Union joined the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, League of Women Voters of Nebraska, Center for Rural Affairs and Nebraska Sierra Club during a rally that followed the Generation Options Analysis open house in Lincoln.

The groups said NPPD should aim for an energy portfolio that is 25 percent wind power and that the public should urge publicly owned utilities to step up their development of wind energy. The state has the fourth-best wind energy resources in the United States but ranks 25th in developing them.

NPPD and Omaha Public Power District each has voluntary goals of 10 percent renewable energy generation by 2020.

Additional open houses are scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the Bremer Center in Aurora; 9 a.m. Wednesday at Divot’s in Norfolk; 9 a.m. May 4 at the McCook Public Power District office; 3 p.m. May 14 at the South Sioux City Marina Inn; and 3 p.m. May 15 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club in Columbus.