Nebraska Public Power District head rebuts wind energy critics

Pat Pope, President and CEO of the Nebraska Public Power District, on June 5 rebutted a recent advertising campaign that claims Nebraska should “get in the game” and invest more in wind energy.

“But serving Nebraskans with reliable electricity is NOT a game,” Pope wrote. “At Nebraska Public Power District, we believe a diverse resource energy mix provides customers with the most affordable and reliable energy. Today, 40 percent of the energy we produce is carbon-free due to NPPD’s investments in nuclear, hydro AND wind energy across the state. This energy, which is owned by Nebraskans, is the best carbon-free percentage in the region.”

The ad ignores the fact that NPPD and many other Nebraska utilities have goals to further increase power production from wind energy, Pope added. At NPPD, the current goal is to produce 10% of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2020. By the end of 2014, NPPD will have partnered to receive the output from seven new wind facilities in the state and will be more than 80% of the way to its goal.

Pope added: “These seven wind projects are among 12 that public power utilities will have made possible across our state by the end of next year. These additions to Nebraska’s public power system were made at a pace our customers CAN AFFORD.”

Nebraska’s electric rates are more than 15% below the national average, and NPPD’s retail residential electric rates are more than 11% below Iowa’s.

“Our power generating facilities meet or exceed ALL environmental and air quality emission standards,” Pope added. “And, we have been proactive in adding additional emission control equipment to further reduce emissions, some more than 50 to 75 percent below the facilities’ federally allotted emission rate.”

The coal that NPPD buys from the Powder River Basin in neighboring Wyoming is low in sulfur, which is better for the environment, and helps bring hundreds, or even thousands, of jobs to Nebraska, Pope said. This nearby resource helps the 1,365-MW Gerald Gentleman Station, the district’s largest generating facility, produce some of the lowest-cost power in the country for more than 600,000 Nebraskans.

To imply a total of 14,000 jobs could be created in the state just by adding more wind generation, as claimed by the advertising campaign, would mean more than doubling the industry’s current workforce, Pope noted.

“Nebraska is not Iowa,” Pope added. “We use a public model to serve customers, and we are not receiving the benefit of tax incentives for wind projects paid by the public through taxes charged to them outside of their electric rates. During the federal government’s 2011 fiscal year, credits for electricity production from renewable resources amounted to $5.3 billion. Those dollars come from the pockets of every U.S. taxpayer. Public power exists to serve Nebraskans, and we are mandated to provide low-cost power. This service to Nebraskans is NOT a game. We respect this state’s land, air and water, and use them prudently to meet our responsibilities.”

Wind is getting a boost from another quarter in Nebraska. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman on June 4 signed LB 104 into law, granting new tax breaks for wind energy companies looking to develop in the state. Heineman said he reluctantly signed the bill because part of it kept state sales taxes from going up, while he called the renewables portion of the bill “corporate welfare.”

A May 22 legislative fact sheet said that LB 104 amends the Nebraska Advantage Act to add a business engaged in the production of electricity by using one or more sources of renewable energy to produce electricity for sale. Renewable energy sources include but are not limited to: wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and transmutation of energy. Transmutation of energy is not defined in the bill but is generally understood to mean the conversion of one chemical element into another, typically by a nuclear reaction.

LB 104 also amends the Nebraska Advantage Act to provide that the investment level for a Tier 5 project that produces electricity for sale from a renewable energy source is at least $20m.

The state Department of Revenue has indicated that due to the capital intensity but limited employment requirements of renewable energy projects, only major wind farms would qualify under the investment and job creation thresholds of Tier 5 of the Advantage Act, the fact sheet noted. The Department also reported that while long-term fiscal impact depends in part on the continuation or termination of the federal wind energy production tax credit, they assume four wind projects – two 200-MW projects and two 75-MW projects – will start construction sometime in fiscal year 2013-14. If the federal credit is renewed, the Department expects additional wind farms will be constructed in three to five year increments thereafter.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.