Nebraska Public Power votes against additional wind energy purchase

Source: By Paul Hammel / World-Herald Bureau • Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2013

LINCOLN — The state’s largest public power district on Friday rejected a resolution to more heavily invest in wind energy.

Pro-wind forces say that the Nebraska Public Power District Board blew it, not only because wind energy is cheaper now, but also because it would increase economic development in shrinking rural areas.

“Instead of being there for its customer-owners, NPPD decided to continue to send millions of Nebraskans’ energy dollars to Wyoming to fuel its big coal plants rather than investing in local, clean, affordable wind energy,” said Ken Winston of the Sierra Club of Nebraska.

But the head of NPPD said that the utility has an excess of electric-generating capacity, and it didn’t make sense to add to that.

“This does not mean that NPPD will not seek power from wind farms in the future,” said Chief Executive Officer/President Pat Pope. “We just will not be pursuing additional wind generation by the end of this year.”

On a 6-3 vote Friday, NPPD’s Board of Directors rejected a resolution to buy an additional 200 megawatts of wind energy from Nebraska projects next month. That’s about twice the power generated by a large wind farm, and would double the utility’s current wind-generating capacity.

The resolution was introduced by NPPD Director Gary Thompson of Beatrice, who argued that the purchase made sense because of the cheaper cost of wind energy, and because the low prices can be locked in for 20 years.

Nebraska has lagged behind other states in developing wind energy. The state’s wind resources rank No. 3 in the country, but its development of wind energy is just No. 23, according to the American Wind Energy Association. By comparison, Iowa can generate 10 times more power from wind, and Kansas can generate about six times more.

Earlier this fall, NPPD Director Fred Christensen of Oakland had asked for a report on the economic benefits of investing in about 10 proposed wind farms scattered across in Nebraska, including one near Oakland.

That led to a discussion about adding more wind energy and Friday’s resolution.

Christensen said he was extremely disappointed by Friday’s vote. He said public power was established in Nebraska so Nebraskans could “reap the economic rewards,” and the vote contradicted that.

A coalition of pro-wind groups called Clean Energy Nebraska had mounted a lobbying and media campaign in support of buying more wind energy. On Friday, members of that group called NPPD’s vote “an injustice.”

Johnathan Hladik of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., said that suggestions at the meeting that Nebraskans don’t support wind-energy development are incorrect.

“The vote today demonstrates that the only way to change the direction of NPPD on this issue is if constituents stand up, hold the board’s feet to the fire, and urge them to invest more in wind energy,” Hladik said.

In advance of the vote, five rural senators from NPPD’s service area urged the district to buy more wind energy, as did 28 representatives of small towns served by the utility.

They argued that NPPD customers would benefit by locking in cheap energy, and farmers and small towns would benefit via lease payments for wind turbines and jobs for shrinking small towns.

But NPPD officials said now is not the time to buy more wind energy.

Mark Becker said that while wind energy is now cheaper, per megawatt hour, than electricity produced with coal, the wind doesn’t blow all the time.

Said Pope, “Until technology provides a means of storing electricity, we cannot rely on wind energy to serve our customers.”

NPPD is on track to reach its goal of generating 10 percent of its power from renewable sources like wind by the end of 2014. NPPD now has the capacity to obtain 207 megawatts of wind energy, but will add another 105 megawatts by the end of next year when two new wind farms come on line. Its goal is 357 megawatts of wind energy.

By comparison, Iowa generated 24.5 percent of its energy from wind in 2012, according to wind-energy group.