Nebraska will soon join an exclusive wind energy club.
By the end of 2015, the state will have the potential to generate more than 1,200 megawatts of electricity from wind farms.
Nebraska currently has 459 megawatts of installed wind power capacity but will add 750 megawatts this year and in 2014, said John Hansen, one of the co-chairs of the sixth annual Nebraska Wind Conference.
When those projects are done, Nebraska will join the ranks of neighboring states -- Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming and Colorado -- that have long surpassed the 1,000-megawatt-mark.
Hansen noted the milestone in his opening remarks at this year's wind conference at the Cornhusker Marriott in Lincoln. The conference began Wednesday and ends Friday.
"This conference sets the stage for a lot of what goes on next year," Hansen said, referring to wind development in Nebraska. This year's theme is "Harvesting Nebraska's Potential."
Gov. Dave Heineman, one of the keynote speakers and a strong supporter of wind energy development, said the increased use of renewable energy is important to Nebraska because it helps create jobs and diversify the state's energy portfolio.
Alternative forms of energy and low energy rates are two key things that companies take into consideration when they are looking for a location, Heineman said.
"We need to be competitive on both fronts if we want to sustain our economic future," the governor said.
Milo Mumgaard, Lincoln's senior policy aide for sustainability, spoke on behalf of Mayor Chris Beutler, who was unable to attend the conference.
Pointing out such projects as the Pinnacle Bank Arena, which was built to "green" standards, Mumgaard touted the mayor's commitment to wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy.
"Lincoln is one of the most sustainable cities in the Midwest," Mumgaard said. "Our goal is to make it one of the most sustainable in the nation."
The challenge for the city and the state is to craft the best policies to attain that goal, Mumgaard said.
"Wind energy is a key part of Lincoln's economic future," he added.
Steve Gaw, a leading consultant on wind energy and transmission policies, told the audience that wind energy is replacing more traditional forms of energy generation.
More wind power was added last year -- 13,124 megawatts -- than any other form of energy generation, he said.
"Wind is a hedge -- an insurance policy that gives you certainty over time," Gaw said, because utilities can lock in a price for energy over 20 years.
In addition to its environmental benefits, wind energy has become less expensive over the last few years due to improved technology, reduced cost of materials, better siting of wind farms, and improved transmission systems.
Gaw said wind energy is also attractive because it limits risk for utilities which are dealing with mercury emissions, availability of water and the volatility of market prices.