By: David Bacht
The Grand Island Independent | April 23, 2019
Clean and affordable wind energy is powering homes and fueling economic growth. In 2018, no other state grew its wind energy capacity faster than Nebraska, and in 2019 no state is better positioned than Nebraska to reap the benefits associated with this important renewable energy resource.
In past generations, states with significant fossil fuel resources – namely coal and oil –could count on jobs, tax revenue, and opportunity as those resources were developed. While not devoid of traditional energy resources, Nebraska has never topped the list of fossil fuel states. But we are at the top when it comes to wind – and that has major positive implications for our future.
Nebraska wind farms operating today can generate roughly 1,950 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 500,000 homes. Wind energy met nearly 15 percent of the state’s total electricity demand in 2017. Beyond the energy however, Nebraska wind also can power our rural economies.
Bolstered by more than $3.5 billion in private investment, close to 2,000 Nebraskans work in wind today. In fact, Yahoo Finance recently reported that “wind turbine service technician” is the fastest growing job in our state.
Those jobs, and the option for young people to return home, bring new life to communities that have been suffering population decline for decades. Wind farms adding 10, 15 and sometimes 25 new good-paying jobs has had a dramatic impact, especially in Nebraska’s small towns. Look to towns like Petersburg, Elgin, Allen, and Neligh for just a few examples.
The bigger story is that wind’s role is set to significantly expand in the coming years. Technology improvements continue to lower the cost of producing electric energy from wind. A recently released annual study shows that the average cost of wind-produced energy declined in 2018 by nearly seven percent. This is the seventh consecutive year of lower costs and results in a total 69 percent reduction in wind cost in the last nine years. New wind projects today produce electric energy at a lower cost than the average cost to fuel and operate a typical coal-fired electric generator.
With another 1,428 megawatts of wind under construction or soon to start, Nebraska is one of only seven states on course to double wind capacity once the projects are completed. And much more is possible.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that Nebraska is third in the nation for wind potential and has the strongest, most reliable wind in the country – our 800 existing turbines generate power at a higher rate than any other state. That means we have more of our very best wind left to develop with the newest technologies.
What does that mean for Nebraska?
It means economic opportunity. Local farmers and landowners benefit from a stable cash flow for the 20-30 year life of the project. Nebraska farmers were paid more than $5 million in wind lease payments just last year.
All of the county’s taxpayers benefit too. At least three Nebraska counties currently receive 10 percent or more of their property tax revenues from wind farms already operating, relieving some of the property tax burden on other landowners. Wind farm taxes are helping improve county roads and enhance rural schools. O’Neill’s school district is using new tax revenues from wind farms to help pay for a needed renovation and expansion project.
Communities also benefit from the economic activity during wind farm construction. Wind farms constructed last year in northeast Nebraska meant 600-800 construction workers stayed in local hotels, ate at restaurants and shopped in stores. For the city of Norfolk, the impact contributed to unprecedented increases in sales tax receipts – an average 12-13 percent year-over-year increase during the summer months of 2018.
Wind is also attracting new businesses, and the jobs that come with them, to Nebraska. Omaha Public Power District used an innovative rate plan and Nebraska’s high quality wind to attract a $1 billion data center to Omaha. The corporate marketplace is driving new wind energy production in our state with companies like Smuckers, Hormel, Adobe and Vail Resorts committing to buy clean power from new Nebraska wind farms.
Nebraska is at the center of an emerging national energy renaissance. This year we’re poised to see unparalleled growth of renewables in our state, despite attacks against the industry by a handful of politicians in Lincoln. As wind power grows nationwide, meeting market demands for electricity created both cleanly and affordably, we stand uniquely positioned to reap the real-life benefits.