Nebraska wind farm project awaits power buyers

Officials say Nebraska's lack of incentives has state lagging in development of wind energy

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) -- A wind energy development company says it is ready to build a 200-megawatt wind farm in northeast Nebraska, but it has had difficulty attracting customers because the state's lack of tax incentives means it would have to charge more for power than companies based in other states.

TradeWind's quandary was discussed last month at the Nebraska Wind Conference in Kearney and earlier this month at the NPPD board of directors' meeting as officials updated the board on wind energy problems.

Nebraska's lack of state tax incentives for wind projects forces project developers to charge more for power, which allows projects in other states to dominate the market for exported power, said David Rich, of Nebraska Public Power District, which has been buying wind energy to meet its goals for providing power from renewable resources.

Frank Costanza, executive vice president of business development for TradeWind, told The Associated Press on Thursday that prices Nebraska projects have to charge are always higher by several dollars per megawatt hour — up to 10 percent higher than power from comparable wind power projects in Kansas or Oklahoma, for example.

"I can tell you that until there is some movement in Nebraska, we're going to have a more difficult time in marketing power from Rattlesnake Creek," Costanza said. Without customers committed to buying the power, he said, the project won't get built.

TradeWind's Rattlesnake Creek project in Dixon County would generate enough electricity to power about 60,000 homes, according to the Columbus Telegram.

The Nebraska Legislature approved a bill in 2010 allowing private investment in wind projects for export to other customers in other states, but proposals for incentives have not advanced, Rich said.

"Nebraska projects are getting beat out because those states have put incentives for wind for export whereas Nebraska hasn't," he said.

A report commissioned for the Nebraska Sierra Club that was released in October said Nebraska is trailing its neighbors in wind-energy development and missing an opportunity to add jobs to the state economy.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello said he and other lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass renewable energy tax credits in recent years, while tax credits for other business ventures have won approval.

"We've passed sales tax exemptions for biochips, for data centers, and a variety of other industries," Mello said. "I think the issue at hand for us as state policymakers is: Why are we not looking at our tax structure to try to incentivize market growth in this industry?"

NPPD's Rich said the company won't lobby for an incentives bill in the session that begins next month, but it will watch with interest to see what related legislation is introduced.

The American Wind Energy Association says Nebraska ranks fourth in the country with its potential of more than 900,000 megawatts of wind energy.

The state has 11 operational wind farm sites consisting of 260 turbines capable of producing 459 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 165,880 homes, according to the Nebraska Energy Office. In 2011, 2.9 percent of the state's power was provided by wind.

By comparison, Iowa wind farms have a current total capacity of more than 4,500 megawatts, according to American Wind Energy, which is enough to power 1.1 million homes and meet nearly 19 percent of the state's total electricity demands for 2011.