What's Wrong With Nebraska's Wind?
Drive 120 miles between Des Moines and Omaha along Interstate 80 in western Iowa and you'll see wind turbines galore, scores of them and more every week. Drive the entire 455-mile stretch of the same highway through Nebraska and you'll see nine of them: two outside of Lincoln, seven outside of Kimball in the far western corner of the state.
There are, of course, more than just those nine; there are some 73 turbines with a combined nameplate capacity of nearly 153 megawatts. By comparison, at the end of 2009, Iowa had an installed capacity of 3,670 MW; twenty-three times that of its neighbor. In fact, Iowa is the second largest producer of wind power in America after Texas.
Yet, Nebraska is estimated to rank fifth in the nation in terms of its wind energy potential. So, a lot of people in the state are asking: What's wrong with Nebraska's wind? Or more bluntly, who's to blame for the state lagging so far behind its neighbors? Nebraska Renewable Energy Association president Robert Byrnes candidly answers that question by blaming citizen apathy. Because all of Nebraska's electric power is generated by public power organized around a depression era mandate to provide rate payers with the cheapest electricity rates possible -- and that turns out to be largely generated from Wyoming coal -- there has been little incentive to invest in wind, especially since public utilities can't claim production tax credits, since they pay no taxes.
The attitude of the public utilities and state government historically has been "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And some of the cheapest power rates in the nation have cemented that notion into state politics for half a century. Besides, Nebraska learned a costly lesson about "new fangled" energy technology fifty years ago. Buried under a mound of dirt is a concrete vault housing the radioactive remnants of the ill-fated Hallam nuclear power plant, some forty miles southwest of the state capital. It operated between 1962 and 1964, when the Atomic Energy Commission ordered it decommissioned and dismantled due to a design flaw.
Public attitudes in the state have begun to shift, not so much because of environmental concerns as economic ones: wind farms are going up in neighboring states, some with less wind potential. The perception is that Nebraska is missing out on a huge economic opportunity. Those are just some of the concerns raised in this two-part Q&A sessions lasting a total of 22 minutes.
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