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The Nebraska Wind & Solar Conference

The Nebraska Wind and Solar conference is a two-day event that brings together a diverse range of stakeholders from Nebraska and across the country to share the latest information and innovations in wind and solar.

Shaped by volunteers from state agencies, farmer and rancher organizations, public power utilities, the renewable energy industry, and academia – the Nebraska Wind & Solar Conference aims to present accurate and objective information pertaining to all aspects of wind and solar development.

Individuals from across the country attend the Nebraska Wind & Solar Conference to network, learn, and be inspired by quality speakers and timely presentations. The conference programming covers a wide-range of topics relevant to the wind and solar industry and the future of development in Nebraska.

View the 2019 Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference Presentations here.

Report: Nebraska led nation in wind energy growth

By Matt Olberding

Lincoln Journal Star |

There’s been a lot of debate over wind energy projects in Nebraska over the past year, but there’s no debate over the fact that the sector is growing rapidly in the state.

In fact, according to a report released Tuesday, no other state saw more growth in wind power than Nebraska.

According to the report from the American Wind Energy Association, Nebraska added 558 megawatts of wind energy capacity in 2018. That was only about half as much as neighboring Iowa, but on a percentage basis, it was tops in the nation.

The AWEA said Nebraska wind energy capacity grew 39% last year compared with 2017. By contrast, the nation as a whole averaged 8% growth.PauseCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:00Stream TypeLIVELoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00Fullscreen00:00Mute

“Nebraska is leading America’s wind energy growth,” said Josh Moenning, mayor of Norfolk and director of New Power Nebraska, in a news release.

“The wind energy industry is creating new income for farmers, new good-paying jobs in small towns, and new tax revenues that are improving schools and local infrastructure,” Moenning said. “Nebraska now creates energy as efficiently as it does food, harvesting the wind and meeting growing market demands for clean energy.”

According to the report, Nebraska currently has 1,972 megawatts of installed wind capacity in 25 projects, which ranks 14th nationally and represents about $3.5 billion of capital investment. At the end of 2018, projects with another 1,100 megawatts of power were either under construction or in advanced planning stages, the report said.

When it comes to the economic impact of the state’s wind energy projects, the report said they paid an estimated $8.5 million in state and local taxes, more than $5 million in lease payments and employed nearly 4,000 people in 2018.

Read more here.

More power needed: OPPD plans to build Nebraska’s largest solar farm, plus natural gas plants

By Reece Ristau

Omaha World Herald | Oct. 15, 2019

Omaha’s electric utility plans to build Nebraska’s largest solar power farm as part of a broader green power initiative.

The Omaha Public Power District board will vote as early as Nov. 14 to seek bids to produce 400 to 600 megawatts of solar power, officials said Tuesday.

That would be roughly double the size of the state’s largest solar installation announced to date, a 230-megawatt, $230 million project proposed east of Lincoln by Ranger Power.

OPPD is still deciding whether it’s more cost-effective to own and operate the farm, or to partner with a private company to operate it.

Board Chairwoman Anne McGuire asked OPPD president and CEO Tim Burke about the project’s costs during an OPPD committee meeting Tuesday.

Burke declined to discuss costs until bids come back but said OPPD expected no general rate increase from the solar farm or related projects.

The publicly owned utility will ask bidders to propose locations in eastern Nebraska for the solar farm, Burke said. The site or sites would need access to OPPD’s transmission lines.

Burke said the OPPD installation, if built, would be the largest solar power project in this part of the Midwest.

OPPD is still deciding whether it’s more cost-effective to own and operate the farm, or to partner with a private company to operate it.

Board Chairwoman Anne McGuire asked OPPD president and CEO Tim Burke about the project’s costs during an OPPD committee meeting Tuesday.

Burke declined to discuss costs until bids come back but said OPPD expected no general rate increase from the solar farm or related projects.

The publicly owned utility will ask bidders to propose locations in eastern Nebraska for the solar farm, Burke said. The site or sites would need access to OPPD’s transmission lines.

Burke said the OPPD installation, if built, would be the largest solar power project in this part of the Midwest.

Ranger Power looks for buyer after getting solar energy site approved

By Jared Austin | Oct. 1, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) Ranger Power will search for a buyer of its 230 million dollar solar site in eastern Lincoln. 

The Prospero Solar project just north of Odessa, Texas, will have a capacity of 379 megawatts, which is enough to power around 72,000 homes based on the national average, the Solar Energy Industries Association said. (Photo: Pexels)

The solar site is expected to be 1,100 acres; the biggest in Nebraska. It will also have the ability to provide power for thousands of people in the city.

The company spokesperson Dan Parson said, “This project, when it comes on line, would have the equivalent of powering 50,000 homes.”

The company chose a site in eastern Lincoln from 124th to 148th and Havelock Street to O Street.

The location was chosen because LES has a substation in the area. LES said anybody can get into it at a charge.

A person living near the solar site wants it moved to the northern part of Lincoln.

“The city of Lincoln owns two sections of ground out north of Lincoln by the dump. I don’t know why it can’t go out there,” Kent Dodson said.

City planner David Cary said this location was not even an option.

“It really wouldn’t work necessarily next to the landfill because we want that land for the expansion,” Cary said.

The city spokesperson said the process of constructing the solar site will take 6 to 12 months. The overall process after finding a buyer will be 2 to 3 years. 

Read more here.

Council OKs solar project that would be state’s largest

By Matt Olberding

Lincoln Journal Star | September 30, 2019

The Lincoln City Council on Monday paved the way for a solar farm east of Lincoln that would be the largest in the state.

Council members voted 6-0 to grant a special permit to Ranger Power, a New York-based company that wants to build a 230-megawatt solar farm on roughly 1,100 acres in an area bounded by 128th Street, 148th Street and O Street and Havelock Avenue.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the permit at its Sept. 4 meeting, but two neighbors opposed to the project appealed that decision to the City Council.

One of those appeals was dropped before Monday’s public hearing, likely because the company made concessions to the landowner. Collin Snow, Ranger Power’s development manager for the project, told Council members that he did not want to go into specifics of negotiations with landowners.

The project is massive by Nebraska standards. If built to its proposed size, it would be more than five times the size of all installed solar energy projects in the state.

Ranger Power officials said they chose the area east of Lincoln because it is close to the state’s two largest cities and also because it has existing infrastructure — in the form of a nearby transformer owned by Lincoln Electric System.

Supporters of the project noted that it will produce clean energy, have a minimal effect on the area and also produce revenue for participating landowners, as well as the county as a whole.

At full buildout, it’s estimated the project will produce more than $800,000 in property taxes annually for Lancaster County and the Waverly school district.

“I don’t see how we can turn our backs on new sources of clean energy and new sources of revenue for our county,” said Sean Flowerday, a Lancaster County Commissioner.

Ruth Ann Thompson, who is one of the landowners with a contract with Ranger Power to host solar panels, said she already has 100 on her land from another project, and they produce no noise, require no maintenance and are extremely durable, having endured recent hailstorms with no damage.

She said the project will be a boon both for the neighborhood and for the county as a whole.

Kent Dodson, one of the landowners who appealed the Planning Commission’s vote, disagreed. He said that while he is not opposed to solar power in theory, he believes the project is in the wrong place.

He suggested the solar farm would be more appropriate on land Lincoln owns north of the city near the landfill, although city officials noted that land is reserved for future expansion of the landfill.

Though Dodson was the only person to speak in opposition to the solar project, about a half-dozen people stood and identified themselves as being opposed to the project.

Even though the project is outside the city limits, it is within the city’s three-mile zoning jurisdiction, which is why it went before the City Council rather than the County Board.

Read more here.

Nebraska college capitalizes on need for wind energy workers

By Chris Dunker

Lincoln Journal Star | September 21, 2019

NORFOLK — Mastering the inner-workings of a nacelle, which houses the gearbox, brakes and generator that makes a wind turbine a wind turbine, will come in time and practice.

First, students in Northeast Community College’s wind energy program must master gravity.

Dressed in hard hats and harnesses, the dozen or so future wind turbine technicians practice rappelling off the side of a decommissioned nacelle donated to the college program from NextEra Energy.

Unlike the 71 turbines of the Sholes Wind Farm about 30 miles north of the Norfolk campus, Northeast’s newest wind energy lab puts the students about 10 feet off the ground.

To those without experience in a controlled vertical descent, however, mastering the technique can be challenging. Boots slip on the nacelle casing, and students roll and pitch on their first tries.

“It’s all about setting your weight back and trusting your equipment,” said Alex Junck, of Sioux City, Iowa. “You also have to bend your knees a little. A lot of people stand up too tall and put their weight on their toes.”

By the second attempt, which requires them to crawl under the nacelle and into a hatch before shimmying around the generator and control system and then emerging on the top of the machine, most of the students have gotten the hang of it.

John Liewer said the lessons on rappelling off the nacelle, which was taken out of service from a wind farm in Minnesota, have taken the place of rappelling from the mezzanine level of the campus building where classes are held.

The practical skills lab, WIND 1085, is offered alongside the Wind Energy Fundamentals class, WIND 1080, an introductory course to the industry, how wind energy is generated and the economic, environmental and political issues.

“One of the things we train on is climbing safety,” said Liewer, an instructor. “They’ll go through the semester learning how to rescue each other and rescue themselves.

“Once they go out for their internships, they’ll refresh on a lot of this stuff,” he added. “But this lets us get them up on a tower to start working right away.”

Nate Simpson, who teaches some more advanced courses in the wind energy program, said the newly obtained nacelle gives the students experience in and around the equipment without needing to be 250 or 300 feet off the ground.

“It takes some of the hindrance of height out of the equation, and lets us get in and discuss what’s going on inside the turbine without the danger,” Simpson said.

After mastering terminology and nomenclature, as well as safety techniques, Northeast runs its wind energy students through more in-depth courses about motor controls and mechanical systems.

Students can leave Northeast after a year to pursue an internship and a job with a wind energy company, Liewer said, or they can complete the two-year program and receive their degree, an associate of applied science.

“If they leave after their freshman year, it’s because they’ve already got a job,” said Liewer, who has taught wind energy courses at Northeast for seven years after working as an electrical service technician for 15 years. “The demand has been really high lately.”

The number of wind energy jobs in the U.S. is expected to rise over the next decade, along with the amount of electricity generated through wind. Just this week, the Energy Information Administration projected electrical generation from wind power would increase 6% this year and 14% in 2020.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of technicians to perform maintenance on wind farms throughout the U.S. is expected to increase from 6,600 to 10,400 — a 57% increase between 2018 and 2028.

Meanwhile, the median pay for technicians is over $54,000, which is even more lucrative when you consider that most jobs in the field do not require taking on the debt of a four-year college degree.

Statewide, demand for wind turbine technicians — a job designated as an “H3,” or high-skill, high-wage and high-demand — is expected to increase by 90% between 2016 and 2026.

The total number of job openings for tower-climbing technicians in 2026 is 229, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor.

Rosy outlooks for a job is the biggest driver for the students in Liewer’s class of about a dozen students.

Bill Arkfeld said he started considering the wind industry during a career fair his Battle Creek school attended in eighth grade.

“I didn’t get put into the job I wanted, and was put into wind instead,” Arkfeld said. “I kind of found it by accident.”

His talks with the technicians that day opened his eyes to the opportunities in the growing field. More discussions about the field gave him a glimpse into the pay and benefits, which led him to Northeast Community College.

Simpson said as more students see the trucks carrying turbine blades drive through their towns or watch as new generation facilities come online, they see opportunity — particularly those who don’t mind working hundreds of feet in the air.

“They are kind of the thrill-seekers,” he said.

Junck, who seeks adventure through rock climbing, skydiving and paragliding, said troubleshooting a wind turbine while connected to a rope is an exciting prospect.

But more exciting, he said, is the availability of jobs and the money to be made.

“Once I graduate, I’ll be able to get a job almost instantly.”

Read more here.

Large Solar Project Near Lincoln Receives Permit Approval

By Allison Mollenkamp

Net News | September 5, 2019

The Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission heard citizen testimony in support and opposition to the Salt Creek Solar Project at a public hearing in Lincoln. The project is being developed by Ranger Power, and would be built just east of Lincoln. 

Supporters praised the environmental benefits of solar power. 

Sean Flowerday is Lancaster County Commissioner for district one. He supports the solar project due to his concerns about climate change.

“Our community has to be a leader in clean energy,” Flowerday said. “Our community has to be a leader in renewables and finding a new path to get away from the old model of fossil fuels that we’ve been on for such a long time. Nebraska is the only state in the nation to see an increased use of coal from 2006 to 2016.”

Opponents were primarily homeowners in the area of the project who said they are not opposed to solar energy in general, but are concerned about the project’s proximity to their homes. 

Ken Richards lives in the area and attended the meeting with several of his neighbors.

“We built these homes and bought these homes for living out in the country and we don’t want solar panels in our backyard,” Richards said. “I cannot walk out of my house with their project where they have it set up and not see them. They’re gonna be right there.”

Opponents also expressed concern about impact on home values and potential fire risk. Developers say the project meets all safety code requirements. 

Opponents will have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the city council.

Read more here.

WEC Energy Group spending $338 million on Nebraska wind farm

By Arthur Thomas

Milwaukee Business News | September 3, 2019

Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group will spend $338 million to acquire an 80% ownership interest in the Thunderhead Wind Energy Center in Nebraska.

Chicago-based Invenergy LLC is developing the wind farm in Antelope and Wheeler counties in the northeastern portion of the state.

The project includes 108 GE wind turbines with a combined capacity of 300 megawatts. Commercial operations should begin by the end of 2020. A Fortune 100 company has an offtake agreement for 100% of the energy produced.

“This investment fits exceptionally well with our strategy of deploying capital in renewable energy assets that will serve strong, vibrant companies for years to come,” said Gale Klappa, executive chairman of WEC Energy Group.

WEC Energy Group expects the investment in the Nebraska project to be eligible for 100% bonus depreciation and production tax credits.

The deal is still subject to regulatory approval.

WEC Energy Group acquired an 80% stake in another Invenergy project – Bishop Hill III Wind Energy Center in Woodhull, Illinois – last year for $148 million.  Earlier this year the company acquired an 80% stake in the Coyote Ridge Wind Farm being developed by Avangrid Renewables for $145 million.

Read more here.

Editorial, 8/31: Solar farm proposal great for Lancaster County

The Lincoln Journal Star | August 30, 2019

As demand for renewable energy increases and the cost of generating it decreases, the playing field in Nebraska is evolving.

Omaha Public Power District shut down its nuclear plant, the nation’s smallest, near Fort Calhoun in October 2016, citing its operating costs. Just a few months later, LES formally ended its agreement to purchase 30% of the power generated by a coal-fired Nebraska Public Power District plant near Hallam.

Meanwhile, more companies than ever pledge to use 100% of their power from renewable sources, as Facebook has done with wind energy at its new Papillion data center, and energy providers increasingly diversify for more environmentally friendly offerings.

Amid this confluence of trends has come a massive, 230-megawatt solar farm proposed for more than 1,000 acres north and east of Lincoln. The plan goes before the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission on Sept. 4, where New York-based Ranger Power’s application for a special-use permit should be met with open arms – and an approval.

A handful of solar operations are scattered across the state, including the community solar panels installed by Lincoln Electric System starting in 2016. But this particular proposal would dwarf the present capacity of all such installations in the state – by a factor of five – and, when fully operational, could power up to 35,000 homes.

Obviously, commitments from Nebraska’s public power providers to purchase the electricity generated will be instrumental in fueling the economic viability of this project.

Since the sun shines during times of peak power usage, the added energy produced by a local solar farm would provide a great complement to existing sources – without emitting more carbon. The technology planned for this development would also collect sunlight from both the sky and reflecting off snow in the winter.

Beyond the benefits of solar power, though, this project’s approach merits praise, too.

Of the more than 1,000 acres scattered between O Street and Havelock Avenue on which Ranger Power wants to install solar panels, the company did so entirely by working with willing landowners rather than deploying eminent domain. Furthermore, it’s seeking no tax abatement, and company officials estimate it will pay some $800,000 a year in taxes to Lancaster County entities.

Lastly, the company has a decommissioning plan in place in 40 years. Should the land use or need for solar panels in that area change once the contracts are completed, little work is required beyond removing the poles on which the panels are mounted. They’re designed to be temporary.

Accordingly, its long-term impact on the environment of Lancaster County is expected to be minimal. Despite the amount of energy this solar farm should produce when up and running in a few years, it could play a significant role in reducing the area’s carbon footprint.

Read more here.

Wayne officials look forward to new wind farm

By Jessica Watson

Sioux Land Proud | August 15, 2019

WAYNE, Neb. (KCAU) – A new 200 million dollar wind farm is now just a few months from opening near Wayne, Nebraska. 

The groundbreaking for Sholes Wind Farm was in July of last year but after more than a year of construction, community leaders are excited to announce the Nebraska wind farm is set to open by November.

“The wind is in Nebraska it’s going to be here the question is are we going to take advantage of it I hope that we do,” said Hansen. 

John Hanson is the president of Nebraska Farmer’s Union. He says he and many other area farmers are excited to have these wind towers on their land.

“Anytime you can get a part-time job by having a turbine at your place or if you got a couple of part-time jobs. When prices are really low like they are now having a steady income is a good thing,” said Hanson.

Each year officials estimate the windmills will bring over a million dollars in taxes to the city of Wayne. 

“We know that Nebraska does have a very strong wind resource and we want to take advantage of all of those resources whether it’s solar wind and nuclear whatever we got,” said Mike Foley the Lieutenant Governor State of Nebraska.

The governor’s office was in Wayne to tour the wind farm in celebration of American wind week. People in Wayne saying this new wind farm also means some new opportunities for their small town. 

“We can be taking a lot of rural kids who want to stay in rural communities and give them the training and technology that they need to be able to get these good-paying jobs and stay in rural communities,” said Hanson.

Once these towers are turning, the sholes wind farm is expected to collect enough energy to power one thousand households every day. 

“when you look at rural Nebraska we have done really well harnessing the natural resources that we already do and we like to think of it as value-added,” said Hanson.

Read more here.