NPPD's misleading wind power figures
Nebraska Public Power District, the state's largest generating utility, is preparing to spend more than $1.5 billion to retrofit Gerald Gentleman Station, an old, dirty, and increasingly expensive coalfired power plant.
This investment will be financed by you, Nebraska's ratepayers.
Your money will be spent to install new equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a new set of rules that will place limits on the amount of pollutants each coalfired power plant is allowed to release. Right now, these are standards that NPPD does not meet.
With the encouragement of a handful of concerned Nebraska residents and groups such as the Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Farmers Union, and the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, NPPD agreed to host a series of open house sessions to help the public better understand the situation at hand. These "Behind the Outlet" sessions were educational in nature, allowing citizens to learn more about our electric system and ask questions in the process.
Unfortunately, NPPD used this opportunity to furnish information that many consider incomplete and misleading. Their attempt to provide fair, unbiased information fell short.
One example stands out. NPPD's wind station featured a large poster claiming that replacing power generated by Gerald Gentleman with increased wind generation, which many Nebraskans agree would be a boon to our local economy, would cost $4 billion. This number was presented as a contrast to the $1.5 billion required to bring Gerald Gentleman into compliance.
That number, $4 billion, assumes that NPPD would build and own the wind facilities necessary to generate power.
In reality, NPPD hasn't done this for some time. It doesn't intend to start. NPPD's misleading decision to quote numbers from an outdated model unfairly casts wind power as more costly, and more risky, than it actually is.
When NPPD uses wind power as part of its generation portfolio it does so by buying power from a developer. In fact, only 16 percent of the wind energy that NPPD will use in 2013 will be generated by a facility owned by the utility. NPPD hasn't built a wind farm since 2005. All wind power added in the last seven years has been purchased from a developer.
When it comes to wind energy and NPPD, someone else takes the risk, secures the land, builds the turbine, finds a customer.
NPPD only buys the output from these wind farms at a rate secured by a long-term contract with the facility owner. Each of these contracts almost always offers rates equal to, and in many cases lower, than what it costs NPPD to produce energy. This has proved to be a good deal for Nebraskans.
NPPD forgot to mention that wind power now sells for 3.5 to 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour, a cost competitive with coal. In wind-rich states such as Nebraska, this renewable resource can also lower the price you pay for electricity.
Introducing greater levels of wind energy into the grid would lower electricity bills by $65 to $200 each year.
NPPD forgot to mention that coal generation is becoming much more expensive, both here in Nebraska and elsewhere. These increasing costs have caused an astounding number of utilities to move beyond coal, opting instead for cleaner and more cost effective resources. The share of U.S. electricity generated by coalfired power plants is expected to fall below 40 percent this year, the lowest level since 1949. Analysts expect this number to fall further, to below 30 percent, by 2020.
The open house sessions may have passed, but your chance to speak out hasn't. Don't forget it's time to hold NPPD officials accountable.
-- Johnathan Hladik is Energy Policy Advocate for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska