Op-Ed: The benefits of Nebraska wind energy

Source: By John S. McCollister, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2017

Along with our abundant groundwater resources, Nebraska has a very special above-ground resource — wind.

As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, I am proud to have worked closely with my colleagues in the Legislature to pass Legislative Bill 824 in 2016. This bill, which I introduced and designated as my personal priority, allows wind energy companies to thrive in Nebraska by removing 1930s regulatory barriers.

 While respecting important environmental and ecological concerns, it updated Nebraska’s regulatory process that does not exist in other states. The process can now be streamlined to fit the unique needs of our Nebraska public power system and respect the local control and land zoning rights of our county governments.

Since the passage of LB 824, Nebraska joined 17 other states in the “Gigawatt Club” by topping 1 gigawatt of wind-generated energy. Nebraska is poised for more growth. What does this mean for our future? It means Nebraska is now in a much more competitive environment to attract significant private investment, which will deliver economic and environmental benefits to the state.

For example, Facebook recently announced its intention to build a new data center in Papillion. Papillion was competitive for this project precisely because the Omaha Public Power District offered Facebook an opportunity to meet (and in this case, exceed) its energy goals for the company.

This new data center will utilize 100 percent renewable energy and, more importantly, will bring millions of dollars of economic activity to Nebraska and the Omaha metro area.

One of the nation’s largest generators of wind energy, NextEra Energy Resources, is actively investing in Nebraska. Two NextEra projects in Nebraska, Steele Flats in Gage and Jefferson Counties and Cottonwood in Webster County, collectively represent nearly $300 million in investment in our state.

These projects will deliver many economic benefits to Nebraska. Over their anticipated 30-year lifespan, these projects will pay approximately $30 million in new property tax revenue, which will support local schools, libraries and other vital public services.

Landowners who lease their property for wind turbines will receive a total of about $37 million over the life of the project. These lease payments can help support family farms and provide capital that may be reinvested in the local community and the state. Furthermore, during construction, these projects create hundreds of jobs and an increase in local spending for goods and services.

More generally, Nebraska’s existing 1 gigawatt of installed wind energy is contributing over $5 million annually in property taxes and another $5 million in landowner payments. A single wind project can reduce the property tax burden on the property owners in an average rural Nebraska county by 20 percent or more.

Nebraska’s journey to harvest wind is just beginning, and it comes at a time when the state’s agricultural sector is experiencing significant financial stress. Our wind resources will bring much needed relief to hard-working farmers and ranchers who drive our agricultural economy. In the next few years, I am certain that this homegrown resource will become a major economic force in Nebraska.

John S. McCollister represents Legislative District 20 in the Nebraska Legislature.