Nebraska Wind energy gains ground with OPPD purchase

Source: By ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS / Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013

The Omaha Public Power District Board approved an agreement Thursday to buy up to 400 megawatts generated by a proposed wind farm near O’Neill.

Under the 20-year-agreement, OPPD will purchase all of the renewable energy generated at the Grande Prairie Wind Farm, which will be built by Geronimo Energy of Edina, Minn.

“This will be the largest wind purchase for us that we have had to date,” said OPPD spokesman Mike Jones. The wind farm will be located northeast of O’Neill and will have 235 turbines.

As of June, the American Wind Energy Association listed Nebraska at No. 23 in the nation for installed wind capacity with 459 megawatts. There are several wind farms currently being built, including one near Steele City in southeast Nebraska.

The OPPD board voted unanimously to approve the agreement, which will increase the utility’s renewable energy generation capacity to 817 megawatts, nearly doubling current amounts. It also increases to 30 percent the amount of retail generation that comes from renewable energy sources, surpassing previous corporate goals.

During discussions Thursday morning, the board heard that prices for wind energy are the lowest the district has seen and represent a good deal for OPPD customers.

“It had to do with the prices,” Jones said, when asked why the Omaha-based utility made such a large power purchase.

Also, acting now would allow Geronimo Energy, the developer, to take advantage of federal production tax credits, which are set to expire at the end of this year, he said.

Duane Hovorka, executive director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, praised the OPPD vote, calling it a big win for the utility’s customers, rural Nebraska and the environment.

“OPPD management should be congratulated,” John Atkeison, the federation’s energy policy director, said in a news release. “They know how to take ‘yes’ for an answer and are putting the interests of Nebraska and their customer-owners above simply continuing business as usual.”

Last week, the federation and others criticized the vote by the Nebraska Public Power District board, which turned away the purchase of 200 megawatts of wind energy this year. However, NPPD said it is committed to buying more renewable energy in the future.

“NPPD got similar offers for wind energy at bargain basement prices but turned them down, and ultimately rural communities and NPPD customers will pay the price,” Hovorka said.

The Sierra Club chapter in Nebraska also praised OPPD’s decision.

“This historic investment in wind is the largest single investment in wind energy by a Nebraska utility and will save OPPD customers money while spurring economic development across the state,” the group said in a news release.

Construction won’t start until the project is approved by the Nebraska Power Review Board. It could be operational by the second half of 2015.

OPPD already has contracts with wind farms near Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Broken Bow, Crofton, Humboldt, Elgin and Petersburg.

The additional wind energy will supply enough electricity to serve more than 118,000 residential customers, according to OPPD.