State energy board gives initial OK to $140M wind farm near Blue Hill, Nebraska

Source: By Paul Hammel, World-Herald Bureau • Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2014

LINCOLN — A state energy board gave conditional approval Friday to a $140 million wind farm that would rise south of Blue Hill in south-central Nebraska.
Financed by NextEra Energy Resources, the nation’s largest wind developer, the project would produce about $800,000 a year in lease payments to 35 landowners and about $864,000 a year in local taxes. That would represent a 7 percent increase in overall tax revenue for Webster County, according to David Levy, an Omaha attorney who represents Florida-based NextEra.

Cottonwood Wind would create five permanent, full-time jobs and about 300 temporary jobs during construction.

The Nebraska Power Review Board approved the project on the condition that it sign a power purchase agreement, according to Tim Texel, the board’s executive director.

Levy said he expects that agreement to be signed with the Nebraska Public Power District by the end of the year.

NPPD is currently in the process of lining up industrial/manufacturing customers that are seeking to use “green” energy, said Dave Rich, the utility’s sustainable energy manager.

Rich said those companies will contract for “renewable energy credits” to cover the majority of the wind farm’s generation. A similar approach was used at the Steele Flats wind farm near Steele City.

Becton Dickinson, which operates medical equipment manufacturing facilities in Broken Bow, Columbus and Holdrege, purchased 30 megawatts of renewable energy credits through the 75-megawatt Steele Flats project.

Rich said that at least two companies have expressed interest in buying about 65 megawatts of credits through the Blue Hill project. It’s also possible, he said, that the project might help attract a new company to Nebraska seeking to use green energy and lock in a good price for electricity via a 15-year contract.

“Prices for wind are definitely the lowest they’ve ever been,” Rich said.

If the project moves forward as expected, construction would begin in the spring and be completed by the end of 2015.

Levy said that since the developer had purchased equipment prior to Jan. 1, the project will qualify for federal energy production tax credits. That program, which has helped spur construction of wind farms across the country, ended at the beginning of the year.