Broken Bow 2: A Visit to a Nebraska Wind Farm

There have been many discussions about the economic benefits of building more wind generation in Nebraska, and I am a strong advocate for developing this resource. With high property taxes at the center of concern in the current legislative session, building more wind farms could be a natural solution in a number of locations. As we try to find a path forward that reduces our carbon footprint, again, more renewable resources are a logical piece of that solution. And as utility providers strive to keep costs low, more renewable resources likewise can contribute to a solution to that challenge.

There are barriers to developing this resource as well. The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) has expired for any project that has not already met qualifying criteria, so the price of this energy for new projects will be higher. Low cost is always top of mind for Nebraska utilities.

Site selection is a critical component of success for any proposed wind farm. Location is so very important: the productivity of the plant is governed by its location. The ability and cost of going to market with that energy is affected by its location. The wildlife and habitat surrounding the plant must be evaluated. Last, but certainly not least: the effect on landowners and property values must be carefully considered.

I was fortunate to be able recently to tour one of the newest wind farms in operation in Nebraska, just north of Broken Bow. Operated by Sempra U.S. Gas and Power, Broken Bow 2 is a 75 MW plant, with 43 turbines providing power. One megawatt can serve the average needs of about 400 homes.

The highlight of my tour was being able to attend the quarterly meeting of Sempra with its landowners and neighbors. Turbines are constructed on private land under easement to the developer. Landowners typically receive an annual payment for this easement, which allows construction and operation of the turbine and access to the property for maintenance. All easements in Nebraska for wind developments have been voluntary—there is no provision for the use of eminent domain.

The landowners I visited with were all very pleased with the working relationship to date. During our conversations, several factors emerged as fundamental to this success. Without exception, good communication was the bedrock of the relationship. Landowners felt included in the process from the beginning. One of the top concerns mentioned was what would happen to the structures when the 25-year project ends (assuming it would not be retrofitted to continue operation). This company has a decommissioning fund in place, to put aside the revenue required to take down the turbines. Issues of access to private land, upsetting grazing practices or damage to the pastures were addressed so well in this partnership that every landowner expressed confidence in the relationship. And the easement payments were certainly welcomed as another source of income in the ups and downs of the agricultural economy.

The economic boom that Custer County has enjoyed is the envy of many other local governments. We can learn from the experiences of other projects as we plot our course to the future in modernizing our public power system. In every case, it begins with the needs and values of the community to optimize our success.

Interesting Facts:

  • Broken Bow 2 went in to operation in October 2014. You can see a short video clip from the dedication here.

  • Broken Bow 2 is unique, as it was developed adjacent to a wind farm already in operation, Broken Bow 1. Broken Bow 1 is operated by a different company, NRG. The two plants can achieve efficiencies in maintenance and operations by being co-located.

  • In a “100% Public Power” state, what role did private developers play in adding new capacity to our electric supply? The federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy, recently expired, was of great value to private companies in off-setting their federal tax liability. Public power utilities do not pay federal taxes, and could not take advantage of the incentive. So, Nebraska utilities worked with private developers to allow the construction of new wind farms here, with the cost advantages of the federal credit. The private company owns and operates the wind farm, and a public utility buys the output.

  • Nebraska Public Power District has purchased all of the energy from Broken Bow 2 for 25 years. NPPD then takes the power to market through participation in the Southwest Power Pool, and delivers it to local utility companies—such as Norris Public Power—for distribution. NPPD also serves about 90,000 customers at retail across the state.

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