New wind law brings fast action

Hours after it took effect, a new Nebraska state wind-energy law inspired a proposal for a half-billion-dollar wind farm near Elgin, Nebraska.
Invenergy, based in Chicago and the nation’s largest private wind developer, filed an application Thursday morning to build a $448-million wind farm between Elgin and Petersburg in northeast Nebraska. The farm would have 133 wind turbines, generate 200 megawatts of power and sprawl across 45,000 acres, making it the state’s largest wind farm. It would also be the first designed to export power primarily to customers outside the state.
The State Legislature passed a law this spring, Legislative Bill 1048, in hopes of inspiring such private development of wind farms for export. The law became effective Thursday. In the past, private firms have experienced financial and regulatory barriers because of Nebraska’s unique status as a public power state.
State laws had to be changed to allow private generation of electric power that didn’t have to meet a “least cost” standard for generation facilities. And the state’s major public utilities, the Omaha Public Power District and Nebraska Public Power District, wanted assurances their ratepayers would not take on new expenses for things like transmission lines for private developers.
State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, who led passage of LB 1048, said the Invenergy project would generate $75 million in benefits through increased taxes, lease payments to landowners, and economic development. He said Thursday’s application confirms that the new law will have a positive economic impact. “It also sends a message that Nebraska is officially open for the business of renewable energy development,” he said.
The Invenergy project would require approval by the Nebraska Power Review Board. That could take six to 12 months. Construction would require an additional 10 months.
Some observers predict a slackening of wind development ahead because of dropping costs for natural gas, overdevelopment of renewable energy generation in some states and a tough climate for attracting investors. David Levy of Omaha, the attorney who represents Invenergy, said the company believes it will obtain financing for the project.
No “power purchase agreements” have been signed with customers, which is required by LB 1048, said Mark Jacobson, the director of business development for Invenergy.  But Jacobson said he is confident those will be coming. Construction, he said, could begin in 2011 or 2012.
Nebraska, he said, has among the nation’s best wind resources, and it recently joined with the Southwest Power Pool, which provides better access to markets to the south. The new law allows private firms a chance to export power, he added.
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