Nebraska has been blessed with an abundance of water, rich soil and breeze that whips across the plains.
The first two are inextricably linked and frequently cited because of their necessity to the state’s largest industry, agriculture. The third, however, has rarely been mentioned in the same breath, despite its mostly untapped potential.
Long a sleeping giant in terms of its potential for wind power, Nebraska appears to finally be on the rise. The American Wind Energy Association reported that the state grew by the greatest percentage – 39% in 2018 – of megawatts of wind energy capacity of any state.
With the capital investment, property tax benefits, jobs created and renewable nature of wind power, such rapid growth represents Nebraska capitalizing once again upon the natural gifts it’s been given.
The U.S. Department of Energy classifies Nebraska has having the fourth-highest potential of any state in the nation, as measured by gigawatt-hours. Yet, the Cornhusker State, which now ranks 14th nationally in terms of installed wind capacity, has risen up that list after playing a bit of catch-up.
It’s better that Nebraska arrived late to the party than not at all, especially for rural areas. Communities such as Elgin, Ainsworth, Petersburg and Broken Bow have benefited from the boost in good-paying technician jobs that accompany the turbines. Furthermore, wind farms increase the property tax base for counties while also providing farmers another means of income during this difficult ag economy.
The AWEA report numbers back up these claims. In 2018 alone, wind energy projects generated $8.5 million in tax revenue, $5 million in lease payments and employment for 4,000 Nebraskans. Several more projects to grow those figures are in the works as the federal tax credits begin to wind down.
And the economic impact fails to address one of the most critical elements of wind power – it’s the best kind of energy in that it’s renewable and clean. The wind won’t stop blowing across this state anytime soon, so converting it into something positive for the state benefits Nebraskans.
Wind energy’s climb hasn’t been without its speed bumps. Concerns about aesthetics, land valuations and property rights have also sparked neighbor opposition to wind projects near Lincoln and in the Sandhills.
But these worries can be addressed by finding common ground, as the Nebraska Legislature proved this week. Senators found a compromise on a bill that initially would have greatly hindered future investment in wind energy, instead recognizing and seeking to protect the “unique terrain and ecology of the Nebraska Sandhills” from overdevelopment.
Indeed, our state is blessed with natural gifts that keep on giving. Much like land and water, wind is one that can be – and increasingly is – harnessed for the betterment of Nebraska.