An Opinion About Purchasing Wind Energy from Other States

Nebraska has a number of outstanding utilities, and I consider Lincoln Electric System (LES) to be a leader in several ways. Their focus on the future is exemplary. Reliable, efficient systems aren’t built overnight, and utilities are notorious for moving at glacial speed. But LES is taking steady, measured steps to assure the long-term health of their system, from the perspectives of managing both rates and environmental impact. By contrast, I believe utilities which have failed to take advantage of recent record low pricing for renewable energy will look back with regret at opportunities lost. I would be very happy to be proved wrong by history on this count someday.

Recently, LES has been the subject of criticism that they are not supporting development of wind in Nebraska, by contracting with out-of-state providers. They have entered in to long-term power purchase agreements with wind farms in Oklahoma and in Kansas.

With the expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit, Nebraska may well have seen a peak in wind farm construction for the near term. I feel we could have done much more to develop this resource and build a legacy that would appeal to young families looking for a place to call home.

In my guiding principles, I promote developing Nebraska resources (Pay Ourselves First). Still, I think it is unfair to single out one utility for this failure--especially one which has stretched our collective commitment to renewable resources.

It is not currently the responsibility of a municipal utility to provide economic development benefits to other communities. Certainly, as a Nebraskan, I wish for us to be a pool where a rising tide would raise all boats. Given the multitude of utilities (167, to be exact) across the state, creating that reality could be heaving lifting indeed. Until we are ready to grapple with the structural issues that fragment our ability to implement comprehensive state energy planning, each utility will need to make decisions based on the realities of their internal economic drivers.

To learn about the factors and process that went in to the selection of these wind farm contracts, you can watch the video linked in above.

LES held two public workshops to present their process and rationales, and have made the video of a workshop available for everyone's reference. If you take advantage of viewing this video, you will be treated to a clear and complete presentation with very little utility-speak.

I want to applaud their model of transparency, and shine a light on their efforts to involve the public in the very pith of decision making. Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler deserves credit for establishing this priority in the city’s utility process, as do the board and management of LES. Utility decision making is extremely complex and it can be very difficult to convey a sense of all the critical moving parts in clear fashion. Well done, Lincoln!

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