Editorial, 5/22: Wind energy right move

May 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The plan by the Lincoln Electric System to triple the amount of energy it gets from wind no doubt will please ratepayers who fancy themselves as environmentally responsible.

Ratepayers who are most concerned about the size of their utility bills also should accept the plan as a reasonable effort to prepare for an uncertain future.

The LES administrative board last week gave the OK for LES officials to negotiate a long-term contract to purchase 100 megawatts of wind energy.

LES currently has about 30 megawatts of energy. About 1.3 megawatts comes from the two turbines that revolve in the breeze at the north edge of the city. The remainder is supplied through contracts with other wind farms in Nebraska.

Last year, about 10 percent of the electricity sold to retail customers came from renewable sources, including hydropower, according to LES Administrator Kevin Wailes. The purchase of 100 megawatts of wind energy could up that amount to 23 percent.

One reason that LES wants to purchase the wind energy now is that the price is right. It wants to lock in a long-term contract while a federal tax credit for wind farms is in effect.

Congress recently extended the credit for one year. What will happen next is anyone’s guess, with Congress obsessed with partisan warfare.

The long-term LES strategy has been to obtain electricity from a variety of sources, including coal-fired plants, nuclear power stations and natural gas-fired turbines. The strategy has paid off with some of the lowest rates in the country.

Currently, the plummeting price of natural gas has made that option one of the cheapest. Only a few years ago it was the most expensive. Using a variety of sources makes LES less vulnerable to changes in the marketplace.

Adding more wind energy to the mix would provide a hedge against the possibility that Congress might impose a carbon tax or require costly emission controls for coal plants, Wailes said.

The wind energy could even prove to be a positive factor in economic development. Facebook recently chose to build a $300 million data center in Iowa, rather than Nebraska, because the company has pledged to get 25 percent of its power from wind.

At the LES board meeting last week, Jason Fortik, vice president of power supply, said he hoped to have pared down the list of 13 companies that responded to the initial request and start negotiations by the end of the month.

Signing a contract for 100 megawatts of wind energy would be a big step for the public power system, as Fortik pointed out. It’s one that LES ratepayers, as owners, should welcome.

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