With the raising of Grand Prairie, a 400-megawatt wind farm in Holt County, Nebraska has sailed past 1,000 megawatts — or 1 gigawatt — of wind-generated capacity. It’s the 18th state to join the club, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
For the first time last year, wind accounted for more than 10 percent of electricity generated in Nebraska, the association reported last month. Just five years ago, that figure was less than 3 percent, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Nebraska’s turbines provide 1,328 megawatts of capacity, and there are more on the way, looking to take advantage of the state’s largely untapped wind potential. Developers have 7 megawatts of turbines under construction and others totaling 586 megawatts in development, the association reported in its first quarterly report for 2017.
Despite ranking fourth among states in abundant wind, Nebraska has long been a straggler when it comes to harnessing that resource. The state briefly climbed to 17th in wind energy production last year before being bumped down to 18th by New Mexico during this year’s first quarter.
The fact that Nebraska has lagged behind other states such as Iowa — which became the first state to generate 35 percent of its electricity from wind in 2016 — could play into its favor in attracting future development, said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office.
“Given the fact that Nebraska has really good wind and has, relatively speaking, developed less of that, we have more of our very best wind left to develop,” Bracht said.
Another factor in Nebraska’s favor is that its wind is some of the most-productive in the country. Turbines can only spin when the wind blows. Nebraska’s turbines cranked out electricity an average of 45 percent of the time in 2016, the highest rate in the nation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Nebraska’s electricity is provided by a network of nonprofit public power districts that can’t collect federal wind production tax credits like investor-owned utilities in other states can, a factor that has long been cited as a barrier to wind development.
Lincoln Electric System and other Nebraska utilities have tackled that obstacle by signing contracts to buy power from private turbine owners who collect the tax credits, such as Invenergy, which has a regional office in Littleton, Colorado, and owns Prairie Breeze II Wind Energy Center, a 41-turbine complex in Antelope and Boone counties.