Brattle Group study identifies issues with Nebraska wind expansion

The Brattle Group has a new study that identifies the factors that impact the desirability of developing 5,000 to 10,000 MW of renewable generation in Nebraska for export purposes.

Prepared for the Nebraska Power Review Board (PRB) and submitted to the Nebraska Legislature for consideration on Dec. 15, the study also presents options available to policy makers to meet the state’s economic development objectives. The PRB is the state agency with primary jurisdiction over the electric industry in Nebraska.

Based upon a review of state, regional, and national renewable energy and transmission policies, the report identifies the following challenges to wind generation developments in Nebraska:

  • Transmission Constraints – Transmission projects currently in development will provide infrastructure sufficient to integrate at least another 2,000 MW of wind projects. However, achieving a considerably higher target of renewable generation in Nebraska would require a substantial expansion of the state, regional, and interregional transmission systems.
  • Limited and Uncertain Demand for Renewable Energy – The regional market for renewable generation is currently saturated, Brattle noted. However, demand for additional renewable generation will likely emerge as costs decline relative to conventional resources, wholesale electricity prices increase, coal plants retire, and new environmental policies are implemented. Nebraska will need to better position itself to be prepared to take advantage of emerging new demand for renewable generation.
  • Less Attractive Economics Compared to Neighboring States – Renewable generation developers in Nebraska face competitive disadvantages relative to some other states in the wind-rich Great Plains region, including lower financial incentives and lower wholesale power prices.
  • Greater Perceived Risks – Due to the requirements of the Certified Renewable Export Facility (CREF) process and limited experience in developing renewable generation under that standard, there is a perception among developers that wind projects in Nebraska are more risky and more difficult to pursue than in neighboring states.  

The study discusses both the costs and benefits of supporting renewable generation development in Nebraska. If, after considering these tradeoffs, the Nebraska Legislature chooses to promote the development of renewable resources in the state, Brattle identifies a number of options available to do so:

  • Develop a State-Wide Transmission Strategy – Addressing future transmission constraints within and outside of Nebraska will be an essential component of the state’s long-term renewable generation strategy. The most effective strategy will likely be a mix of options that can minimize costs to ratepayers while supporting renewable generation development.
  • Additional Tax Incentives – The economic disadvantage faced by renewable developments in Nebraska compared to neighboring states could be addressed through additional economic development incentives. 
  • Simplify the CREF Process – To reduce the perceived and actual challenges faced by wind generation developers in Nebraska, the Legislature may consider limiting the CREF process only to the review of environmental impacts, other permits, and the decommissioning plan.
  • Create a State Function to Promote Nebraska Renewables – Similar to other states, Nebraska could consider setting up a function within the Nebraska Department of Economic Development that, with the active and credible support of state policy makers, would promote the state as an attractive location for renewable generation development and help the state achieve its policy goals. 

“Nebraska has some of the best wind in the country but a surprisingly low amount of wind generation installed and under development,” said Brattle principal Judy Chang, a co-author of the study. “Nebraska policy makers and legislators have been working to increase the attractiveness of the state to renewable energy developers. They have already reduced some barriers, including those related to limiting public power condemnation rights. We anticipate that Nebraska policy makers will consider the options laid out in our report to make decisions about further improving the economics and regulatory setting for renewable development.”

Said the study about the transmission issues: “The existing transmission system, including transmission additions already approved or under construction, will likely allow for the integration of at least 2,000 MW of additional renewable generating resources into the SPP footprint once the already approved facilities are placed into service over the next several years. We estimate that the total investment in the local, regional, and interregional transmission infrastructure needed to support the very ambitious target of 5,000 to 10,000 MW of renewable generation in Nebraska would likely range from $1.5 billion to $4 billion (in addition to the transmission upgrades currently under development). A potentially significant portion of this cost would likely have to be borne by Nebraska utilities and their customers, depending on the extent to which the new lines are developed through the regional transmission planning processes. Some of these costs however will be offset by the benefits of reduced transmission congestion that increase the value of all power sales by Nebraska electric suppliers and reduce the net cost to Nebraska ratepayers.”

To put the renewable generation development target of 5,000 MW to 10,000 MW into context of the size of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) market, the high end of this target exceeds the current and future total peak load in Nebraska, projected to grow from 7,000 MW to 8,000 MW by 2030. It also exceeds the installed capacity of the leading wind generation states in the region, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, which each have approximately 3,000 MW of wind generation installed with an additional 1,000 MW under construction. Iowa currently has over 5,000 MW of installed wind generation, Brattle noted.

The study, “Nebraska Renewable Energy Exports: Challenges and Opportunities,” prepared in response to Nebraska Legislative Bill 1115, was authored by Brattle principals Judy Chang and Johannes Pfeifenberger, associate Michael Hagerty, and research analyst Ann Murray.

The Brattle Group analyzes complex economic, finance, and regulatory questions for corporations, law firms, and governments around the world.

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.