Nebraska's public power is looking to move toward renewable energy for the future.
Nebraska's public power is looking to move toward renewable energy for the future. Image: Brian Bulin

Job creation, economic benefits require expanded, upgraded transmission grid

Nebraska’s wind energy potential ranks third in the country, yet falls in the middle when it comes to renewable energy production. 

New Power Nebraska, an initiative of the American Wind Energy Association, hosted a forum Oct. 22 with energy leaders in the state to discuss ways Nebraska can overcome the lack of renewable energy production. 

Two main problems in fast-tracking toward renewable sources like wind and solar are Nebraska’s reliance on coal for energy production and the initial investment required for wind turbines and solar panels. 

Coal provides some of the lowest energy costs to customers at the moment. For Nebraska to invest in more renewable sources of energy, the power grid infrastructure needs to be increased to provide more reliability and lessen congestion.

“Nebraska power needs the ability to diversify their energy options in order to move away from fossil fuels and coal,” said Janece Mullhoff, a member of Omaha Public Power Districts Board of Directors.

In 2016, OPPD completed the Midwest Transmission Project which aids the future transmission of renewable power from wind farms. The Sarpy Transmission Project builds up needed infrastructure for continued economic development. Both projects support OPPD’s goal of shifting to carbon neutral by 2050 and align with pledges from companies in the Omaha area like Google and Facebook to lessen their carbon footprint.

“The clean energy transformation across the globe is rapidly accelerating with low-cost wind energy,” said James Williams, vice president of renewable development at Invenergy.

Invenergy has operated in Nebraska since 2014 and currently provides power to approximately 200,000 homes.

“Four billion dollars has been invested in the state of Nebraska so far for renewable projects,” Williams said, “and with solar decreasing in price by 50% over the last five to 10 years that makes it more competitive.” 

Nebraska Public Power serves the areas outside of Lincoln and Omaha, providing wind energy production, hydroelectric power and nuclear power from their facility in Brownsville to rural Nebraska customers.

NPPD has invested $750 million in transmission infrastructure over the last decade to increase reliability and lessen congestion. 

“We are primarily focused on looking at carbon emissions and how we can reduce those with 61% already being provided by renewables,” said Tom Kent, president and CEO of Nebraska Public Power District.

Kent said that an easy analogy to understanding the Nebraska transmission electric system is to think about the system like cars on the interstate. If you want to move a large number of cars across the state, the most effective way to do that is to build an interstate roadway system and simply add lanes to increase the number of cars and avoid traffic jams.

Nebraska State Sen. John McCollister said that the Nebraska Legislature tends to take a hands-off approach to regulating and influencing the Nebraska public power system since Nebraska has an elected board that oversees and manages the system.

“One of the great things about renewables is the ability to maintain low costs in the state to Nebraskans,” McCollister said, “Wind development in the legislature is geared to go full speed ahead.”

Senior Journalism, Broadcasting and Advertising Student.