Renewable energy proves a sound investment for Nebraska

Source: By Tim Gay, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2020

wind energy (copy) (copy)
Wind turbines are shown at Grande Prairie Wind Project, Nebraska’s largest wind energy development, near O’Neill in 2016. THE WORLD-HERALD

Wind energy is crucial to Nebraska’s economic growth. We are fortunate to live in a state that has demonstrated real leadership in the expansion of wind power through pro-growth tax policies and removing regulatory barriers to wind development. Nebraska is on the right path, and given our resources we have tremendous potential for continued growth. New business investment centered on affordable, clean energy generation is a model that is producing results and providing hope for the future.

Already, Nebraska is a top five state in corporate investment in wind energy. Companies such as Facebook, Adobe, Avery Dennison, Hormel, Vail Resorts and Smucker’s are all currently making substantial investments in our state’s world-class wind resources.

With abundant wind power potential, Nebraska has considerable room to grow to meet both corporate and residential energy needs. Wind currently produces 2,132 megawatts of power in Nebraska. That is enough clean energy to power nearly 700,000 homes, and output is now meeting nearly 20% of our state’s total electricity demand. Wind farm projects that will produce an additional 1,000 megawatts are under construction.

Even with those impressive numbers, there remains room for growth. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that Nebraska’s total theoretical wind generation capacity is nearly 100 times greater than our current output.

Having this much clean energy capacity at our fingertips puts Nebraska at a considerable economic advantage. Corporate customers striving to meet their own carbon-reduction goals, while keeping energy costs low, are demanding clean power. Nebraska is well-positioned to meet those needs, and wind power is enhancing our state’s economic diversity by attracting companies specifically seeking clean power.

Facebook is a great example. The company’s decision to invest nearly $1 billion in establishing new data centers in Sarpy County was driven by the opportunity to purchase clean energy produced in Nebraska. Omaha Public Power District helped facilitate the arrangement, connecting Facebook to the Rattlesnake Creek Wind Farm in northeast Nebraska. Both investments have meant hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic activity, hundreds of new good-paying jobs, and new tax base to ease the property tax burden on existing landowners. This is a model for future economic growth in our state: homegrown clean energy fueling the demands of the corporate marketplace, attracting significant new investment and creating new job opportunities in rural and urban Nebraska in the process.

It’s not just tech giants like Facebook and Adobe that see promise in Nebraska’s wind energy. Vail Resorts recently committed to purchasing wind energy from the newly constructed Plum Creek Wind project in Wayne County. Vail Resorts has pledged to power its 34 North American resorts with 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and wind energy from Nebraska is critical to reaching that goal.

In addition to helping corporations meet their clean energy goals, Nebraska’s economy also benefits from the tax revenue generated by wind projects. In 2019, Nebraska’s wind power generated $12 million in state and local tax revenue, primarily in the rural communities that host wind turbines. As a former county commissioner and state senator, I know how much an expanded tax base means to local and state government. It helps provide important services like building infrastructure, maintaining law enforcement and a host of other public services, helping to expand the tax base for both urban and rural taxpayers.

As we continue to explore ways to attract new jobs and keep young people here, overlooking clean energy as a growth opportunity would be a costly mistake. We have tremendous potential to continue leading the country in attracting business investment in our affordable, clean energy resources, bringing the benefits of new economic growth to both urban and rural Nebraskans alike.

Tim Gay, a Papillion resident, is a member of the Omaha Public Power District Board of Directors.