Wind power opportunities are clear, investment is not

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November 10th, 2010

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Nebraska leads the nation in wind potential, but has yet to fully capitalize on it (Photo courtesy Blamfoto, Wikimedia Commons)

Kearney, NE – Nebraska can reap some big benefits from developing wind power, but big investments will be required to make that happen. That was the message from several speakers as the wind power 2010 conference wrapped up in Kearney.

In the last several years, Nebraska’s passed legislation encouraging small, medium, and large wind projects. Addressing the conference, Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy compared wind power to another alternative energy source.

“Nebraska wind energy is maturing,” he said, “and is going to mature very quickly.” “One focus should be on finding the right combination of tools that will help accelerate growth. Nebraska’s ethanol supporters persevered, and so will we, in wind.”

Sheehy said ethanol development had suffered a number of setbacks from events including Prohibition, World War Two and the farm crisis of the 1980s, but had emerged stronger each time. He didn’t mention the subsidies that have been involved in that growth. But whether from tax dollars or private sources, it’s clear that substantial investment in transmission lines will be needed if wind power is to realize its full potential. Energy consultant Ed DeMeo showed a map of the windiest areas of the country, a band stretching north to south along the High Plains from North  Dakota to Texas, including Nebraska.

“As we know,” he said, “most of the best winds are not where people live. So you’ve got to get the energy from where it is, out there in the boondocks, to the load centers where people live, and again you just need the wires.”

Those wires, as DeMeo put it, are new high-voltage transmission lines stretching hundreds of miles, to supplement lines that, around Nebraska, are already at or near capacity. A study of national transmission needs several years ago put the cost at $60 billion. The Southwest Power Pool, a regional organization Nebraska belongs to, is talking about building more lines, but plans are long-range, and Nebraska utilities have disputed the amount they’re being asked to pay. Meanwhile a private firm, Clean Line Energy Partners, wants to build four lines at a cost of $10 billion, including one from western Iowa or eastern Nebraska to the suburbs of Chicago. Clean Line executive Dave Berry said there are plenty of private investors interested in the project. But he said the big money will only start to flow once the company can show it has approvals for its line, something it’s working on now.

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