Wind energy is an important part of Nebraska’s energy picture.
Our state has approximately 734 megawatts (MW) of wind power as of mid- 2014, enough to meet the energy needs of more than 230,000 Nebraska homes when the wind is blowing. The state’s newest wind power project, the 200 MW Prairie Breeze Wind Farm, began operating May 1, 2014. Later this year, the Broken Bow II Wind Farm, is scheduled to begin operating. That project will be able to generate up to 73 MW of carbon-free electricity.
Even more new wind power is on the way. A 400 MW project is being developed near O’Neill, Nebraska while a second project, the 100 MW Arbuckle Mountain Wind Farm, will be built in Oklahoma.
Since the late 1990s, Nebraska’s locally owned utilities have invested more than $2.5 billion in wind power. And we’re not done yet.
By 2018, Nebraska utilities will be generating up to 1,300 MW of electricity from the wind – enough to power more than 400,000 homes when the wind is blowing. That year, wind power will surpass nuclear power as the state’s second-largest source of electricity.
Several factors are making this surge of wind energy possible. Some utilities have the need for additional energy production. Supportive public policy also is critical: The U.S. Congress extended the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for one year, 2013, which helps reduce the cost to build a new wind project. Many projects that began construction before the end of 2013 will be eligible to receive tax credits for a period of 10 years once they start operating. Advanced materials and cutting-edge engineering enhance the output of the current crop of wind turbines: For the same level of wind input, they now generate more electricity.
Our state has the nation’s third-best wind resource, which can be harnessed for the benefit of Nebraskans or for “wind for export” needs – which Nebraska utilities support as long as it does not increase electric rates for our customer-owners. The “fuel” to generate electricity from wind power is free, but there are costs to turn the wind into electricity and transport it to customers.
One of the largest expenses related to wind power involves transmission lines to carry the wind energy to customers. Currently, the best available wind resources in Nebraska are typically in rural areas, a significant distance from where customers live. In recent years, Nebraska electric utilities have not had to construct new transmission lines to bring wind power to customers. But as more wind farms are built, there may be increased need for new transmission lines to deliver new wind-generated electricity to customers. Nebraska’s locally owned utilities keep wind power costs low by purchasing the power through long-term Power Purchase Agreements.
Wind power cannot generate electricity around the clock the way fossil fuel and nuclear plants can. Wind turbines only generate electricity when the wind is blowing. While wind forecasting models have improved, utilities cannot rely on wind turbines to produce electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Wind power is a valuable source of electricity, but has unique strengths and weaknesses. Nebraska’s utilities must plan for wind generation at a pace which makes the best sense for customers while considering the need for new power plants.
Nebraska’s utilities set realistic goals to incorporate wind-powered resources into their generation mix. Two of the state’s largest utilities — Nebraska Public Power District and Omaha Public Power District — set goals of having 10 percent of their electricity come from new, renewable resources, like wind energy, by 2020. In fact, OPPD expects to have about 30 percent of its electricity come from wind power by 2018. Nebraska Public Power District is ahead of pace for reaching its self-imposed goal.
New wind generation facilities are a welcome addition to the state’s energy mix. A diverse portfolio of generation options — including coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewables like wind, hydro and solar — makes our electric supply less vulnerable to disruption from market-based events, like a sharp increase in the price of one fuel.
Want to know more about Nebraska wind power? Just click here.