Nebraska Custer County landowners welcome 50-turbine wind farm

Source: By Emily Nohr, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER • Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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These wind turbines are some of the 50 in the just-completed $145 million Broken Bow LLC power project. The new wind farm, which was dedicated Tuesday, is set to produce 80 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to meet the needs of about 25,000 homes in Nebraska.

BROKEN BOW, Neb. — Custer County landowners Dale and Phyllis Green never expected to share their family ranch of more than 50 years.

But today, a single wind turbine soars about 80 meters into the sky and sits on a section of rolling pasture where Dale, 82, and Phyllis, 72, used to raise cattle.

The turbine is one of 50 in the just-completed $145 million Broken Bow LLC project, a joint effort by Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International, and the Nebraska Public Power District.

Including the Greens, 18 Custer County landowners gathered Tuesday for the dedication of the new wind farm situated about nine miles northeast of here. The wind farm is set to produce 80 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to meet the needs of about 25,000 homes in Nebraska.

The project will be operated by Edison Mission Energy, and all of the power produced by Broken Bow will be sold to NPPD under a 20-year agreement. NPPD will claim 47 megawatts and sell 18 megawatts to the Omaha Public Power District, 14 megawatts to the Lincoln Electric System and 1 megawatt to the City of Grand Island.

Broken Bow LLC stretches across 14,000 acres and took about a year to complete. With its completion and one near Crofton, Neb., NPPD will have 5.2 percent of its energy needs met by renewable energy resources, said NPPD media relations specialist Mark Becker.

NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope called the Broken Bow project a “major step forward” in the public power district’s goal of having 10 percent of its energy mix come from renewable sources by 2020.

Pope, Gov. Dave Heineman and other dignitaries helped to dedicate the Custer County project, which could be the last or next to last wind farm built in Nebraska for a while, given uncertainty about the future of a federal tax credit for electricity produced from large-scale wind turbines. The credit is set to expire Dec. 31, but Congress still could act to renew the credit.

The tax credit issue has been in the national spotlight, with President Barack Obama supporting its extension and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney saying he’d let it expire.

Companies based in the Midlands already have seen the effects of the uncertainty over the credit.

Columbus, Neb.-based wind tower manufacturer Katana Summit announced in September its plans to close unless the company finds a buyer, affecting more than 200 employees in Columbus and about 80 at another facility in Ephrata, Wash. Siemens Energy Inc., a wind energy equipment manufacturing giant based in Denmark, also announced last month plans to lay off 615 workers, including more than 400 at a Fort Madison, Iowa, wind-turbine blade factory.

Both companies blamed market uncertainties and lack of congressional action.

Across the U.S., wind companies already have announced more than 3,000 layoffs, pending expiration of the credit. Navigant Consulting anticipates that 37,000 wind industry jobs will be lost by early 2013 if Congress does not extend the credit, which helps developers secure private financing.

The federal tax credit has created a low-cost option for the NPPD and its customers, said Dave Rich, NPPD’s sustainable energy manager. But the completion of a second wind farm proposed for the Broken Bow area and a half-dozen other projects planned in the state hinge on the tax credit’s extension, he said.

“If the production tax credits are not extended, it’s very likely none of those projects will happen,” he said.

That means utilities will miss out on the cheap power being offered by private wind farm developers, Rich said. “There’s some very good competition among developers.”

As of August, Nebraska had 337 megawatts of wind energy capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Once Broken Bow LLC and Crofton Hills are online, Nebraska’s capacity would be 459 megawatts. That compares with the 4,524 megawatts generated by Iowa wind farms.

Pedro Pizarro, president of owner Edison Mission Energy, commended Nebraska’s “stable wind policy,” saying he hopes to build more wind farms here in the future.

The company, which is the largest operator of wind energy in the state, has built two others in addition to the Broken Bow project — the Elkhorn Ridge project near Bloomfield and the Laredo Ridge project near Petersburg. They also sell their output to NPPD.

The company is nearing completion of a fourth — the 14-turbine Crofton Hills project near Crofton — before the end of the year, Pizzaro said.

“It takes good neighbors, and clearly we’ve found that out here,” he said of the Broken Bow community.

During the dedication Tuesday, Pizarro presented a $20,000 donation to Broken Bow School Superintendent Mark Sievering in support of the district foundation’s capital campaign for North Park Elementary gymnasium improvements.

With construction of the Broken Bow project completed, its commercial operations are targeted to begin in the next several weeks. Thirty-two turbines are fully commissioned — meaning they’ve gone through the process of receiving power and can push power back to the grid — while 18 are left to go, said project manager Bart Richardson.

At peak construction, the project employed about 100 people on site, and the project contributed about $5.6 million to the state in sales tax revenue during construction.

Heineman called the Broken Bow project a boost to Nebraska’s overall economy. “This is a sign of expansion for the state.”

He commended city and county leaders for their support of the project, calling it one that will attract young people to stay and raise their families in Nebraska. “You’re the ones on the front lines, and you’re the ones who made this happen,” he said.

Heineman also thanked Edison Mission Energy for its investment.

Operations at the Broken Bow wind farm will provide seven permanent jobs and annually will provide an average of $600,000 over the next 25 years in property taxes and state income taxes.

In addition, the project will generate an average of $540,000 per year in lease royalties to local landowners.

That couldn’t come at a better time, especially with the effects from the drought, said landowner JoAnn Kottmeyer, who’s lived in Custer County for about 50 years. “It’ll pay the taxes on our ranchland.”

While not everyone enjoys it, both Kottmeyer and the Greens say they enjoy the new skyline, with its red blinking lights at night sprawling as the crow flies about 10 miles.