Nebraska senators push public power district on clean energy

The Sierra Club is trying to amp up the pressure on the Nebraska Public Power District to get off of coal, releasing on Sept. 13 a letter written earlier that week to the district by several state senators.

The letter urges the public power district to invest in clean wind energy while prices are at an all-time low. Senators Annette Dubas, Ken Haar, Russ Karpisek, Norm Wallman andJim Scheer represent districts in NPPD’s service area.

“We applaud these state leaders for calling on NPPD to make smart decisions with our energy dollars and take advantage of the opportunity to lock in contracts with wind farms while prices are at an all-time low,” said Ken Winston of the Nebraska Sierra Club. “The coal-fired power plants that NPPD relies on are the major reason for constant rate increases over the past ten years and emit dangerous toxins like mercury and sulfur dioxide. Clean energy is the right path for Nebraska’s future, both for economic development and protecting the environment.”

The senators highlighted the potential for major economic development in Nebraska if NPPD makes strong investments in wind energy. The letter cited the town of Petersburg, Neb., as an example of a rural community helped by the development of a wind farm. In 2012, NPPD developed long-term energy scenarios which concluded that large investments in wind energy would keep rates low for their customers, the club said. However, these scenarios were developed using significantly higher assumed prices for wind energy prices, which means that using current prices would yield even greater benefits for their customer-owners, the club added.

“NPPD’s own economic development numbers show that signing contracts to obtain electricity from the proposals currently before them would create an average of 413 permanent jobs per year over the next 20 years,” said Winston. “Nebraskans deserve the lower rates, jobs and environmental benefits of wind energy. It’s time for NPPD to get in the clean energy game to boost rural development and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.”

Incidentally, the letter from the senators didn’t specifically mention the word “coal,” but alluded to that fuel in this section: “We have experienced escalation in consumer rates in the past ten years largely due to increased fossil fuel costs. President Obama’s recent announcement of plans for reducing carbon pollution mean that the costs of generating electricity from fossil fuels are likely to increase considerably.”

Lincoln Electric System recently announced that it signed a contract to purchase power for over 20 years from the future Arbuckle Mountain Wind Farm in south-central Oklahoma, the club said. The public power utility will receive all 100 MW produced by the wind farm, with that purchase to save its customers $160m, the club said.

“Although we prefer locally generated electricity because of the economic benefits it provides Nebraskans, we applaud LES for making the decision to recognize the benefits of clean energy to its ratepayers and the environment,” said Winston.

The senators urged NPPD to take advantage of LB 104, legislation passed in the 2013 legislative session, that created incentives for renewable energy projects in Nebraska. The lowered development costs secured through LB104 and the historically low wind prices have the potential to save customers money and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, the club said.

District has said it is already investing heavily in wind energy

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 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.

Lincoln Electric System announced July 19 that it had finalized a power purchase agreement to include an additional 100 MW of wind energy in its power resource portfolio by January 2016.

“Taking advantage of a market strengthened by the extension of the federal Production Tax Credit for large-scale wind farms, LES was able to secure a 20-year contract with EDP Renewables that will deliver our customer/owners considerable savings in projected power costs,” said LES Administrator and CEO Kevin Wailes at the time. “We expect to begin realizing these savings in the first year, with the benefits increasing throughout the life of the contract.”

LES will receive all 100 MW of wind energy from EDP Renewables’ Arbuckle Mountain Wind Farm, located in south-central Oklahoma. Wailes said the additional wind energy will boost the renewable resource component of LES’ power portfolio by 12%.

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.