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Energy questions blowing in wind

When Congress adopted higher standards for the use of corn-based ethanol, a gold rush of ethanol plant construction in Nebraska and the Great Plains resulted. A similar decision concerning wind energy, which will soon face federal lawmakers ...Shelley Sahling-Zart, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Power Association, said utilities have varying abilities to meet such mandates. She said they should be free to pursue renewables as "they make economic sense for our customers."

COLUMBUS, Neb. - When Congress adopted higher standards for the use of corn-based ethanol, a gold rush of ethanol plant construction in Nebraska and the Great Plains resulted.

A similar decision concerning wind energy, which will soon face federal lawmakers, will help decide whether the Cornhusker State yields a bumper crop of wind turbines, observers say.

Supporters of wind energy and rural development crisscrossed the state last week, beating the drum for a proposal to adopt a federal standard to supply 20 percent to 25 percent of America's energy from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Setting a high renewable energy standard, or RES, would send thousands of good-paying jobs and millions of dollars in tax benefits to rural areas, these advocates say.

"This is one of the most significant pieces of rural development legislation in years," said Chuck Hassebrook, director of the Center for Rural Affairs, based in Lyons, Neb.

"It's a rare opportunity," Hassebrook said. "There's not a lot of things that will bring 3,500 good-paying jobs to rural Nebraska."

Power industry officials, however, oppose such national mandates, which they say could cause unreasonable increases in... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

COLUMBUS, Neb. - When Congress adopted higher standards for the use of corn-based ethanol, a gold rush of ethanol plant construction in Nebraska and the Great Plains resulted.

A similar decision concerning wind energy, which will soon face federal lawmakers, will help decide whether the Cornhusker State yields a bumper crop of wind turbines, observers say.

Supporters of wind energy and rural development crisscrossed the state last week, beating the drum for a proposal to adopt a federal standard to supply 20 percent to 25 percent of America's energy from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Setting a high renewable energy standard, or RES, would send thousands of good-paying jobs and millions of dollars in tax benefits to rural areas, these advocates say.

"This is one of the most significant pieces of rural development legislation in years," said Chuck Hassebrook, director of the Center for Rural Affairs, based in Lyons, Neb.

"It's a rare opportunity," Hassebrook said. "There's not a lot of things that will bring 3,500 good-paying jobs to rural Nebraska."

Power industry officials, however, oppose such national mandates, which they say could cause unreasonable increases in electricity rates.

Nebraska, unlike 29 other states including Iowa, does not have a state renewable energy standard, although its two largest utilities - the Omaha Public Power District and the Nebraska Public Power District - have adopted voluntary targets of 10 percent renewables by 2020.

Shelley Sahling-Zart, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Power Association, said utilities have varying abilities to meet such mandates. She said they should be free to pursue renewables as "they make economic sense for our customers."

"It really comes back to local control and trying to decide what's best for your own community," Sahling-Zart said.

Two members of Nebraska's congressional delegation said that while they support development of wind energy, they were unsure about adopting a federal RES mandate.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., is leery of the impact such a mandate could have on ratepayers, a spokesman said.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said he is unsure whether mandates or incentives for building wind farms would be the best course.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that if 20 percent of the nation's energy was generated by renewable sources by 2030, it would create nearly 26,000 construction jobs in Nebraska, 31,000 permanent jobs, $21 million a year in lease payments to landowners and $31 million a year in additional property tax income.

The group's research estimated that Iowa would see 63,401 construction jobs and 9,000 permanent jobs created by the same standard.

The big concern for Nebraska, almost everyone agrees, is that new transmission lines are needed to carry any wind-generated power from remote hills to population centers, a multimillion investment.

Detweiler said that unless Congress sets a high RES, there won't be sufficient incentive to invest in the expensive transmission lines to reach Nebraska's world-class wind resources. That would leave the state like dozens of frontier ghost towns that were bypassed by the railroad.

Hans Detweiler, director of state policy for the American Wind Energy Association, characterized a Senate bill that would create a 15 percent RES as a "status quo" measure that would do little to encourage more wind farms in Nebraska.

The association, which represents wind turbine and tower manufacturers, contends that a 20 percent RES would create the needed incentive.

Nebraska, mainly because of its unique status as a public power state, has been playing catchup in the game to harness the economic benefits of wind.

While the Cornhusker State has the sixth-highest potential to generate wind energy, it ranks 22nd in production.

Iowa, meanwhile, ranks No. 2 nationally in wind energy generation and generates 7.1 percent of its electricity from wind, compared to Nebraska's 0.87 percent.

Nebraska took steps to enhance wind development through laws passed last spring.

OPPD recently announced plans to pursue a 40-turbine wind farm at Humboldt, near the Kansas border. NPPD is pursuing new wind farms near Petersburg and Broken Bow, in central Nebraska. Both utilities appear on track to reach their voluntary renewable goals.

The vote on a federal renewable energy standard is expected to come after the contentious debate over health care is over. The RES measure could get caught up in a hotter energy issue - the proposed "cap-and-trade" system to control carbon emissions and address climate change.

Jay Holmquist, executive director of the Nebraska Rural Electric Association, said it's understandable why the American Wind Energy Association is seeking a high federal renewable energy standard: to increase business for its members. But rural electric associations see the costs of a mandate being shifted directly to ratepayers at a time when there are more economical and reliable ways to generate electricity, he said.

Wind energy proponents said the decision on a federal standard will be a critical vote in determining whether Nebraska becomes a big player in wind energy.

"If the feds adopt a good renewable energy standard, that means there will be an automatic market for wind all over the country," said Rich Lombardi, a Lincoln-based lobbyist for the wind energy association. "And where's the wind? Here."


Source: http://www.omaha.com/articl...

AUG 31 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/21969-energy-questions-blowing-in-wind
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