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A State of Wind

By Senator Ben Nelson

Nebraska is one of the windiest places in the country.  I was reminded of that in August while traveling around the state, not only by the wind which blew at every stop, but in meetings with fellow Nebraskans who are working on plans to turn the wind into energy.

It’s an issue dear to my heart because it involves clean energy and the economy as it creates the new generation of green collar workers.

Big Wind Potential

One group I met with during a swing through the Panhandle provided figures showing the big wind potential for their county. Those figures showed that the grand total for 1000 megawatts would produce an economic benefit of $1.1 billion. New local jobs during construction would amount to 3,298. New local long term jobs would total 451.

It’s no wonder that local groups around the state are pursuing ways to harness the wind just as major utilities are. There is plenty of room for improvement. While Nebraska ranks 4th for potential wind energy development, we currently rank 24th in actual energy generated by wind.

Stimulating Jobs

Those promoting wind energy recognize that in order to realize our potential it will require some help from the federal government. This is one of the big benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which I helped shape to be good for our state.

The American Wind Energy Association says that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill, has saved about 40,000 jobs in America, many by providing financing for wind projects that had faced uncertainty after the near collapse of our economy in 2008.

Also, the stimulus bill has provided $3.4 billion in grants for 100 smart grid projects that will promote advanced transformers and load management devices that are crucial for getting more wind energy onto our nation’s energy grid.

To expand that grid, last year I introduced the SMART Energy Act which helps build the national electricity grid that I call an interstate Energy Superhighway to enable energy generated by wind turbines on the Nebraska prairie to get to the big cities on the coast.

This summer I also co sponsored legislation aimed at helping Nebraska rural electrics and public power districts to obtain needed financing to help build new renewable energy projects.

It would be paid for by expanding a section in the stimulus bill that would enable Nebraska’s consumer-owned utilities to receive grants to help cover the cost of renewable energy projects. Currently, the grants would only apply to utilities that are owned by private investors.

So that the provision would not add to the deficit, it would be paid for by closing a tax loophole that exists today for big oil companies.

Wind Energy is Good for America

As long as Nebraskans are of a state of mind to turn our state of wind into an energy generating state I will continue looking for ways to take our message to Congress so it can become a reality. Taking advantage of the prairie winds is not only good for Nebraska; it is in the best interests of all Americans.