GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — A decision by the Lincoln Electric System to purchase wind energy from Oklahoma is being criticized by the Nebraska Farmers Union.
Earlier this month, Lincoln Electric System agreed to purchase 100 megawatts of wind energy. LES officials touted cost savings for its customers. But Farmers Union President John Hansen said the public utility also has a responsibility to boost economic development in Nebraska.
Hansen said the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has done a study of the economic development benefits of wind energy development systems in Nebraska. Data from that study, he said, estimated the economic development benefits from 100 megawatts of wind energy development would range from $86.8 million to $164 million.
“Those millions of dollars in economic development benefits will go to rural Oklahoma, not Nebraska,” Hansen said. “It is disappointing that LES decided to help rural Oklahoma rather than rural Nebraska, especially since we have world-class wind resources in our state.”
Hansen said his organization would discuss this issue with state senators, especially the need to clarify utilities' responsibilities relative to two economic development statutes that apply to public power.
According to the Tulsa (Okla.) World, two new wind farms planned in south-central Oklahoma will provide electricity to utilities in Arkansas and Nebraska.
Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc. earlier this month announced a long-term agreement to sell 150 megawatts of wind energy to Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.
EDP Renewables North America will build a 100-megawatt wind farm to provide power to Lincoln Electric Systems for 20 years. It wind farm is expected to be built in 2015.
Lincoln Electric Systems CEO Kevin Wailes said the wind farm will bring lower-cost power to the company's customers. “We expect to begin realizing these savings in the first year, with the benefits increasing throughout the life of the contract,” he said.
Ken Winston from the Nebraska Sierra Club said, “Investing in clean energy and moving away from dependence on fossil fuels is the best path we can take to secure our energy future and protect our air and water here in Nebraska for future generations.”
“We must also invest in clean, renewable energy developments here at home,” he said. “We have the fourth best wind potential in the nation, yet we send millions of dollars out of state buying coal from Wyoming. Our neighbors in Iowa and Colorado are investing in wind at record rates because it is becoming the lowest cost option for utilities.”
Oklahoma has 3,134 megawatts of installed wind capacity, which is sixth highest in the nation, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The state's wind potential of 516,822 megawatts is the ninth best in the country, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.