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Nebraska Public Power District Blows Opportunity to Invest in Wind Energy and Spur Rural Economic Development

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Wind Energy Can Bring Low Rates, Economic Opportunity, Reduced Dependence on Old Coal Plants and Cleaner Air to Nebraska
Friday, October 11, 2013
Ken Winston, kwinston@inebraska.com, 402-212-3737
Emily Rosenwasser, Emily.Rosenwasser@sierraclub.org, 312-251-1680 x119

COLUMBUS, Neb. – Today, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) Board of Directors failed to pass a resolution to integrate Nebraska-based wind energy despite overwhelming support from Nebraskans across the state. NPPD’s vote ignored its own long term energy plan, which concluded that large investments in wind energy had the potential to keep rates low for customers. This estimate was made even before wind energy prices dropped significantly this year.

“The NPPD Board missed an opportunity to meet its legal obligation to provide electricity at the lowest reasonable cost by failing to take advantage of Nebraska’s world-class wind energy resources at a time when wind energy prices are at an all-time low,” said Ken Winston of the Nebraska Sierra Club. “NPPD isn’t there for the rural Nebraskans who want jobs to keep their communities from declining. NPPD isn’t there for the customer-owners who would benefit from having low rates from wind energy locked in for years to come. Instead of being there for its customer-owners, NPPD decided to continue to send millions of Nebraskans’ energy dollars to Wyoming to fuel its big coal plants rather than investing in local, clean, affordable wind energy. This is an injustice and contrary to the purpose and intent of our public power system.”

NPPD’s own economic development study found that total local earnings, payments and income from wind investments across the state could top $1.1 billion, creating an average of 413 permanent jobs per year over the next 20 years. The proposed wind farms reviewed and voted down by the NPPD Board are in geographically diverse regions of the state, meaning communities across the state of Nebraska stood to benefit.

The failure of NPPD to embrace wind has not only caused rural communities to lose out on millions in local development, it has caused large companies to pass over Nebraska and head to Iowa in search of more clean energy.  This spring, Facebook announced plans to build a new data center near Des Moines, Iowa instead of Kearney, Neb., citing Iowa's options for renewable energy as a deciding factor for the data center location. MidAmerican Energy, which just announced it would invest $1.9 billion in new wind projects in Iowa while projecting cost savings for its customers, will supply power for Facebook's new Iowa data center.

“Nebraskan wind is a valuable resource, and it is time for our public power districts to get us in the game,” said Winston. “If our public power districts continue to rely on coal and conventional electricity generation, it may erode Nebraska’s 21st century competitive advantage. Clean air and clean jobs are a winning combination here in Nebraska, and investments in wind and energy efficiency will get us there.”

The lowered development costs that would have been secured through NPPD’s wind contracts and the historically low wind prices could save customers money and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The low prices are guaranteed because there is no cost for fuel from wind generation, and future prices can be locked in for as long as 20 years.

The NPPD Board ignored a letter sent to the Board in September from Nebraska state senators urging investment in wind energy. Senator Annette Dubas, Sen. Ken Haar, Sen. Russ Karpisek, Sen. Norm Wallman and Sen. Jim Scheer, representing districts in NPPD’s service area that could greatly benefit from clean energy, all signed on to the letter.

The senators highlighted the potential for major economic development in Nebraska, specifically in rural districts, if NPPD voted to make strong investments in wind energy. The letter cited the town of Petersburg, Neb. as an example of a rural community bolstered by the development of a wind farm.

“Petersburg, Nebraska, population 333, has experienced a veritable renaissance from wind development projects,” noted the senators. “They have a new hometown grocery store, something almost unheard of in rural Nebraska, and there are baby strollers on the sidewalks again, indicating that young people will choose to live and raise their families in rural Nebraska if given the right opportunity.”

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