Getting Wind Power Where It's Needed Most

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Transmission infrastructure took center stage at Nebraska Wind Conference.

Published on: November 27, 2011

James Hoecker ought to know what he is talking about when he speaks about wind energy. The former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, serving from 1997 to 2001, is now senior counsel and energy strategist with Hush Blackwell. When he spoke to a large crowd at this year’s Nebraska Wind Conference in Kearney, he said that the only way the U.S. reaches a goal of 20% of our power generation from wind by 2030 is if transmission lines and infrastructure are expanded, improved and revamped.

“The benefits vastly outweigh the costs,” Hoecker told the group. “The more transmission you have, the more reliability you can promote.” New transmission capability and development to accompany new wind farms in the Midwest means job creation potential in a troubled economy, according to Hoecker. If we were to build enough transmission lines, he said it could mean 150,000 to 200,000 jobs over the next 20 years just for transmission. That job creation doubles if the number of wind farms doubles, he said. Then there are indirect economic benefits of on-site maintenance and off-site manufacturing.

It sounds pretty simple. To increase wind energy generation, fix our economic problems and build rural prosperity, let’s just increase our transmission capability.

NOT JUST ABOUT TURBINES: At the Nebraska Wind Conference in Kearney, much of the discussion centered around the development of transmission lines along with turbines at wind farms like this one at Laredo Ridge near Petersburg

Hoecker said that it isn’t quite that simple. There is no real guiding federal policy on the development of transmission infrastructure. Who pays for the transmission lines? Who can benefit from their development? Who decides what routes the lines take?

These are questions that are up in the air on a case by case basis. The other factor involved in transmission development is the preference for offshore wind energy farms on the East and West coasts. There has been reluctance from urban centers on our coasts in strategic planning of transmission expansion here because they want to produce their own wind energy in offshore wind farms, rather than importing wind energy from the “Wind Belt” in the Midwest and Great Plains.

This year’s wind conference provided an excellent view into the state of affairs in wind energy in Nebraska and the nation, and it also shined a light on the challenges in expanding the industry to new heights.

It seems that wind energy development isn’t just about wind turbines, but also wind policy and transmission infrastructure.

Watch for more details from the Nebraska Wind Conference in future print stories in a coming issue of Nebraska Farmer.

Speaking of the wind…

Many of you probably braved the hurricane winds this past Saturday, dragging your Christmas lights out of storage and preparing to install a little holiday cheer in lights around your farms. As Nebraska Farmer editor, Don McCabe, and I travel around the state this time of year, we are amazed at the Christmas creativity on Nebraska farms and ranches. Large lighted nativity scenes and unique Christmas lighting exhibits and displays on farm homes, barns and buildings around the farmstead prove to everyone who drives our rural countryside that Nebraska farmers and ranchers have a special kinship to the Christmas season.

So, we’d like you to show us your holiday spirit. We’re asking farm and ranch families to send us photos of your outdoor Christmas decorations and displays. We’d prefer digital images, so we can easily post them on the Nebraska Farmer website – www.NebraskaFarmer.com – as we receive them.

You can simply email photos to editor, Don McCabe, at dmccabe@farmprogress.com, or to myself, Curt Arens, at carens@farmprogress.com.

We look forward to seeing and sharing your Christmas spirit in photos of your farmstead holiday displays. Who knows? I might post a few of my favorite photos right here.