The pursuit of wind energy in Nebraska would produce more in-state economic benefits than imported natural gas and coal., even without the local benefits of manufacturing turbines and related components.
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – “While the economic benefits of developing wind power are relatively small compared with the overall state economy, the jobs and income that would be generated from building and operating wind power in Nebraska could be significant for farmers and rural communities,” says a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “New economic activity from wind development could help counteract these trends (of poverty) while diversifying these local economies.” Attracting manufacturing capacity for the wind industry or allowing wind power to displace out-of-state generation would increase the economic benefits, and Nebraska could develop its own wind industry to become a supplier to the booming U.S. and international wind market, explains the report, ‘Strong Winds: Opportunities for Rural Economic Development Blow Across Nebraska.’ “This report shows that Nebraska can make a significant commitment to develop wind power and maintain its low electricity rates, while providing net benefits to the state’s economy and environment,” says author Steve Clemmer. If wind were to supply 10 percent of the state’s electricity by 2012, it would create 360 more jobs, $8 million more in income and $35 million more in gross state product than producing the same amount of electricity from coal and natural gas generation. The net benefits to the state economy would exceed the additional cost of developing wind power by $15 million each year over a 20 year period. “Nebraska’s farmers need new economic opportunities,” adds Sally Herrin of the Farmer’s Union. “Harvesting our homegrown wind power will spur new economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities.” Nebraska has the sixth best wind energy resources in the U.S. but the state lags far behind its neighbors in developing wind power. The state Natural Resources Committee currently is considering two bills to promote the use of renewable energy in the state. “Nebraska has a powerful opportunity to become a national leader in wind energy development just as it has with ethanol production,” notes the report. Iowa, Minnesota and Texas are demonstrating that progressive state policies are key to fostering the growth of wind power, and implementing a renewable portfolio standard in Nebraska could help spur development of new industries, offer a new cash crop to farmers, and provide an important source of jobs and income to rural communities. The best wind resources are located in rural areas which has lower income levels than the state average, and new economic activity from development of wind energy could help counteract these trends while diversifying local economies and helping to counteract the swings in commodity prices. Within a decade, the study estimates that wind projects could generate $2.2 million in royalty payments to farmers and landowners and $5.2 million in property tax revenues for rural communities. “In recent years, wind power development and use has expanded rapidly in the United States and around the world,” says the report. “This trend is expected to continue, especially in the Midwest.” “Making a long-term commitment to develop wind power could help spur development and expansion of businesses that manufacture wind turbines and related components in Nebraska,” it adds. “If half of the turbines and related components and all of the towers that are needed to meet the 10 percent goal were manufactured in Nebraska, an additional 250 jobs, $15 million in earnings, and $44 million in gross state product would be supported each year over the ten-year period. Additional jobs and economic activity that could result from exporting equipment to other states are not included in these estimates.” “The two most important variables affecting the cost of wind power are ownership and the availability of federal incentives,” it explains. “By taking advantage of its as yet untapped wind resources, Nebraska will be taking an important step toward reducing its reliance on expensive, aging nuclear power plants and dirty coal plants that pollute the air and jeopardize the health of all Nebraskans. By starting on this path now, the people of Nebraska can prepare themselves for the expected shortfall in electricity generating capacity by relying on a clean source of power that is not subject to the volatility of fuel markets.” The global wind industry has grown at 32 percent a year since 1995, reaching $4.6 billion of investments last year. By 2004, global wind capacity is projected to triple, and new wind power investments are projected to rise to $7.6 billion. In the United States, capacity is expected to double by the end of this year, providing an estimated $2.5 billion in new investment. The Department of Energy’s ‘Wind Powering America’ initiative has set a goal of producing 5 percent of the country’s electricity from wind by 2020, which will add $60 billion in capital investment in rural America, provide $1.2 billion in new income for farmers and rural landowners, and create 80,000 new jobs during the next 20 years. “Nebraska is facing an important choice,” says the report. “It can continue to rely on imported fossil fuels and expensive, aging nuclear plants, or it can invest in wind power and other clean homegrown renewable electricity resources.” Factors that are prompting the growth of wind power in the U.S. include technology improvements, declining cost, environmental and public health concerns, utility green pricing, and federal incentives. Since 1980, the cost of wind power has fallen by 90 percent, and industry officials predict the cost will decline further in the future, while the cost of natural gas increases. Nebraska has four large turbines operating in the state, representing 2.8 MW of capacity. UCS is a partnership of citizens and scientists that research energy and health issues, and advance practical solutions for the environment.