Time is ripe for wind power

Though the 2010 census reported a stagnant population growth in Nebraska, a state relatively unaffected by the recession, a statewide transition to capitalize on wind energy potential could revolutionize and reinvigorate the Nebraska economy to one fit for the world of tomorrow.

According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Energy, Nebraska’s potential for the production of wind energy ranks third of all 50 states. Excluding urban areas, water features and protected wilderness, the report estimates that 91 percent of Nebraska’s land is available for wind energy production — with a 900,000-megawatt installed capacity. In comparison, Nebraska produced a dismal 293 megawatts via wind energy in 2010, accounting for less than one-half of 1 percent of the state’s energy consumption for that year. We can no longer live in the age of excessive energy consumption with little regard for the devastating environmental and human cost of our unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama highlighted the urgent need for America to reinvest in renewable energy, an industry he rightly proclaimed is "cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs." America’s commitment to renewable energy would decrease our dependence on foreign oil, not only from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the unstable regimes of which it is made up, but also from unconventional oil sources like the environmentally ravaging Canadian tar sands.

Skeptics who question the market viability, sustainability and potential of wind can look no further than our neighbor Iowa. In 2009, the Hawkeye state generated a nation-leading 15 percent, or 3,604 megawatts, of power by wind energy, up from 5 percent in 2006. The Iowa government’s action in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, grants, other economic incentives and a streamlined regulatory process lured companies to the state. It spurred research into making technological advancements in the transmission, storage and management of the emerging wind energy market at campuses and labs across the state. The substantial long-term benefits of Iowa’s investment are the 8,400 expected jobs, greater environmentally conscious energy independence and billions of dollars in revenue.

This should intensify opposition to the possibility that the Nebraska Public Power District Board of Directors, the publicly owned utility company operating in 91 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, could invest $1.5 billion into retrofitting the coal-fired Gerald Gentleman Station. Sens. Heath Mello and Ken Haar sent a letter to NPPD’s board urging research of alternatives, partially because there is no such thing as clean coal. Aside from contributing to global warming, coal production and consumption leak harmful carcinogens such as mercury, lead, arsenic and sulfur into the air and soil.

Nebraska should invest that substantial amount of money into sustainable wind energy. At the current market price, a commercial-scale 2-megawatt wind turbine costs roughly $3 million. However, smaller 10-kilowatt wind turbines, the size needed to power an average house or small farm, can range between $35,000-$50,000. A $1.5 billion investment in wind energy could not only establish 500 wind turbines — tripling Nebraska’s 2010 wind energy production (enough to power 250,000 homes) — but also would create thousands of green Nebraska jobs.

It is time for Nebraskans to stand up for a cleaner and smarter future. The public outrage and protest surrounding the ultimately doomed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates the public mandate and commitment to an investment in alternative energy. The environmental footprint of wind farm compared to any other current form of energy is undeniable. Direct action is needed; Write, call, email and visit elected officials (NPPD directors are publicly elected) to advocate for change we can afford.

Harvesting Nebraska’s wind potential would boost the economy, create thousands of jobs, give rural communities greater energy independence, preserve the state’s environment and set the state on a sustainable trajectory for future generations. However, forward progress ultimately relies on audacious leadership by Nebraska’s elected officials. The Legislature should decrease drastically, or eliminate completely, the subsidies given to the ethanol industry, which provides only a marginally better alternative to crude. Instead, subsidize and help mature a wind energy industry in its infancy that has the potential to revolutionize and reinvent Nebraska.

Justin Tolston is a senior political science major, 99 percenter and intern at Planned Parenthood, journalstar.com