Sierra Club slams Nebraska utility for not adding new wind capacity

The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) Board of Directors on Oct. 11 failed to pass a resolution to integrate Nebraska-based wind energy despite overwhelming support from Nebraskans across the state, said the Sierra Club in an Oct. 11 statement.

NPPD’s vote ignored its own long-term energy plan, which concluded that large investments in wind energy had the potential to keep rates low for customers, the club said. This estimate was made even before wind energy prices dropped significantly this year.

“The NPPD Board missed an opportunity to meet its legal obligation to provide electricity at the lowest reasonable cost by failing to take advantage of Nebraska’s world-class wind energy resources at a time when wind energy prices are at an all-time low,” said Ken Winston of the Nebraska Sierra Club. “Instead of being there for its customer-owners, NPPD decided to continue to send millions of Nebraskans’ energy dollars to Wyoming to fuel its big coal plants rather than investing in local, clean, affordable wind energy. This is an injustice and contrary to the purpose and intent of our public power system.”

The proposed wind farms reviewed and voted down by the NPPD board are in geographically diverse regions of the state, meaning communities across the state of Nebraska stood to benefit, the club said.

“Nebraskan wind is a valuable resource, and it is time for our public power districts to get us in the game,” said Winston. “If our public power districts continue to rely on coal and conventional electricity generation, it may erode Nebraska’s 21st century competitive advantage. Clean air and clean jobs are a winning combination here in Nebraska, and investments in wind and energy efficiency will get us there.”

NPPD says it already has enough power lined up

NPPD said in its own Oct. 11 statement that it will continue to move forward with its established goal of generating 10% of its energy resources with new renewable energy, primarily wind, by 2020. A proposed resolution to purchase up to 200 MW of additional wind energy by the end of the year was rejected by the board, with three votes in favor and six opposed. 

“I do not believe this vote is a referendum on wind. This is an issue of resource planning. This does not mean that NPPD will not seek power from wind farms in the future. We just will not be pursuing additional wind generation by the end of this year,” said district CEO and President Pat Pope. “A goal has been established by the Board, and we will continue to work towards meeting that goal.”

At the end of 2014, NPPD said it will only be 45 MW short of reaching its strategic goal the board established in February 2008.

“Our existing generation facilities currently can produce more energy than our customers require,” Pope explained, “and while we can sell some of our excess energy into the wholesale market, there are limitations and risks associated with that. It is important we utilize dispatchable generation in order to maintain the reliability of electric service Nebraskans expect.

Pope added: “We have to remember, wind does not always blow in Nebraska, and thus we need to keep available the generation facilities that can provide electricity when needed. Until technology provides a means of storing electricity, we cannot rely on wind energy to serve our customers.”

Since 2008, NPPD has brought 433 MW of generation into Nebraska for its customers and those of other public power utilities. Including its Ainsworth wind farm, constructed in 2005, NPPD will have 312 MW of wind on its system by the end of 2014, and based upon current load demands, expects to have a total of 357 MW by the end of 2014 with two new wind farms either under construction or planned. The 75-MW Steele Flats Wind Farm near Steele City is expected to be in service this November, and the 75-MW Broken Bow II wind farm northeast of Broken Bow is anticipated to be in operation in late 2014.

The vote followed several months of discussion by the board about adding more wind after numerous unsolicited proposals by wind developers were submitted, indicating pricing for such projects had dropped significantly, the district noted. Developer proposals included federal production tax credits, set to expire at the end of 2013 if project construction hasn’t started by then, unless Congress extends the law. Tax credits are one of the drivers in reducing prices, along with the sales tax credit incentive approved by the Nebraska legislature in 2013, the district pointed out.

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.