Nebraska

Renewable resources have the potential to transform Nebraska's energy supply. Currently about two-thirds of Nebraska's power is generated by coal, with most of the remainder coming from nuclear energy.[1] But with open skies and more than 47,000 farms,[2] Nebraska ranks near the top of the nation in its ability to generate energy from wind, crop waste and energy crops, solar power and biogas.

The renewables map shows current and future Nebraska facilities generating energy from wind, biomass, solar power and biogas.

Wind Energy

wind turbines in a cattle pasture

Nebraska has the 4th largest wind resource in the country -- developing it could create tens of thousands of jobs in the state

Nebraska has the 4th largest wind resource in the country, but with an installed capacity of just 294 megawatts -- enough to power about 80,000 homes -- Nebraska doesn’t even rank in the top 20 when it comes to wind energy production. The state is ramping up quickly, however, adding 60 megawatts in 2010 and more than 80 megawatts in the first quarter of 2011 alone. Additional projects totaling more than 3,700 megawatts are in various stages of development.[3][4]

Two of the state’s largest wind farms are Elkhorn Ridge, near Bloomfield, and Laredo Ridge, near Petersburg, each with a capacity of 81 megawatts. Another 81 megawatt project at Broken Bow is expected to come online in late 2012.[5]

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Nebraska has the potential to build 7,800 megawatts of wind power by the year 2030 -- developments that could bring tens of thousands of new jobs.[6] The wind industry already supports 500 to 1,000 jobs in the state, and the government is eager to woo more manufacturers. Katana-Summit, a major wind turbine tower manufacturer, opened a plant in Columbus in 2008.[7]

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

farmers in a field of switchgrass

Credit: Gretz, Warren - NREL Staff Photographer

Biomass power generation in Nebraska has increased 1500 percent since 2001

Every year after the corn harvest, more than 9 million tons of plant material is left in the fields. Nebraska is already burning some of this material to make electricity. And in the future, it can be used to make a clean, liquid biofuel called cellulosic ethanol.

The best biofuels protect the environment and food supplies while improving the economic welfare of workers and communities. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from crop waste (such as corn stover -- the stalks and other bits left over after harvest) and non-food crops, is the biofuel of the future. It can produce four to ten times as much energy as corn ethanol without swallowing up huge tracts of food-growing farmland or existing forests and prairies with high biodiversity and ecological value.

All in all, Nebraska produces more than 11 million dry tons of biomass each year, making it one of the top ten biomass producers in the country.[8]

In 2009, biomass generated more than 70 million kilowatt-hours of power in Nebraska -- enough to power more than 6,000 homes for the year. The state's biomass power generation has increased nearly 1,500 percent since 2001.[9]

Nebraska has great potential to produce advanced biofuels from cellulosic biomass. A five-year USDA study showed that switchgrass grown on marginal farmland in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, using only moderate amounts of fertilizer, yielded an average of 300 gallons of ethanol per acre, compared with 350 gallons per acre of corn in the same states. Unlike corn, however, the switchgrass in this study produced 540 percent more energy than it consumed in planting, harvesting and processing. [10]

In 2008, Abengoa opened a pilot cellulosic ethanol project within its corn-ethanol plant in York, west of Lincoln.[11] The technology that converts switchgrass and other forms of cellulosic biomass to fuel is a work in progress, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has shown its support by pledging to invest $385 million in cellulosic refineries between 2007 and 2011.[12] In 2010, the DOE and USDA pumped nearly $600 million into 19 biorefineries, many of which plan to produce cellulosic ethanol. [13]

Solar Energy

solar panels at parking structure

Solar power in Nebraska remains relatively unexplored, even though the state ranks 13th in solar energy potential

Nebraska is earnestly developing its wind and biomass potential, but its solar potential remains relatively unexplored. Less than half a percent of Nebraska’s residential electricity came from the sun in 2008, yet the state ranks 13th in the country in terms of potential solar power production.[14][15]

The state’s largest solar installation was built at Creighton University in Omaha in 2010, consisting of a 20-megawatt rooftop array on the campus fitness center and an 80-megawatt system in a university parking lot.[16]

Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems, a manufacturing and consulting firm, points out that solar panels are the perfect complement to wind-energy systems, as windy and sunny weather rarely coincide. On display at the company's off-grid energy farm in Lyons are a solar shower, cooker, and 500-watt solar array mounted on a passive tracking device, which keeps the panel tilted toward the sun all day long.[17]

Nebraska farms are ideal candidates for solar power installation. A 2003 study on a Nebraska cattle farm showed that solar energy can enhance livestock and crop management by creating free power for functions such as water pumping.[18]

Biogas Energy

Swine farms in Nebraska generate enough methane to power 24,000 homes

Nebraska is among the top ten producers of methane gas in the country. In 2010, the federal EPA's AgSTAR program estimated that 177 swine farms in Nebraska were capable of using biodigesters to capture methane and produce 272 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year -- enough to power more than 24,000 homes.[19]

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy taps into reservoirs of steam and hot water beneath the earth's surface. Most geothermal resources are concentrated in the western United States, but according to Google.org, one of the leading investors in enhanced geothermal technology, just 2 percent of the deep geothermal energy in western Nebraska could produce the equivalent of 57 gigawatts of power -- eight times the state's current total electricity generation capacity.[20] And because geothermal power does not vary based on weather or precipitation patterns, it's an easy replacement for fossil fuel in large-scale power plants.

Drilling geothermal wells may involve hydraulic fracturing of underground formations, also known as fracking -- similar to the process used in oil and gas production. Strong protections must be in place to guard underground sources of drinking water from contamination during the fracturing process. Hydraulic fracturing operations related to geothermal production are currently exempt from underground injection control regulations under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Drilling or associated activities at the site can threaten the environment and human health in other ways as well. For example, chemical additives may be used in geothermal production. All drilling and fracturing activities, as well as management of toxic waste, should be conducted with the highest level of environmental protection.

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.

Toolkit

Economic Incentives for Renewable Energy Projects in Nebraska

The Nebraska Energy Office Dollar and Energy Saving Loans program offers loans at 5 percent interest or less for property improvements that reduce energy consumption. These loans can also be used for renewable energy projects such as wind farms.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency lists federal, state and local government incentives for renewable energy projects in Nebraska.

The current Farm Bill offers a number of incentives for renewable energy. The Environmental Law and Policy Center maintains a helpful website called Farm Energy that outlines the current incentives and monitors the development of new ones.

Wind Energy

The Nebraska Energy Office has an extensive list of resources, including wind maps, informational webinars and guides for landowners, farmers and commercial operators on the legal, financial and technical issues surrounding turbine installation.

Nebraska offers a Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Community Wind Projects that can be applied to gross receipts on the sale, lease or rental of personal property for a community-based energy development (C-BED) project.

The Department of Energy has published a small wind consumer’s guide for Nebraska.

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

Nebraska has a number of incentives for the use of alternative fuels, the purchase of an alternative-fuel vehicle and the construction or purchase of an alternative-fuel refueling station or equipment. See the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center at the U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Solar Energy

A state easement provision allows property owners to create easements to maintain their access to sunlight.[21]

Biogas Energy

The EPA's AgSTAR program has a comprehensive handbook on developing biogas technology. The site includes FarmWare, a free decision-making software package that can help you assess the feasability of biogas on your farm.

The Northwest CHP (Combined Heat and Power) Application Center has a fact sheet that helps you ask all the right questions about installing a biodigester on your farm.

Notes:

  1. [1] U.S. Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/nebraska.html
  2. [2] U.S.D.A. 2007, http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Ag_Overview/AgOverview_NE.pdf
  3. [3] American Wind Energy Association, State Fact Sheet: Nebraska: http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/upload/1Q-11-Nebraska.pdf
  4. [4] AWEA 1st Quarter Market Report: http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/reports/upload/1Q-Market-Report_-Public.pdf
  5. [5] Official Nebraska Government Website. Wind Farms in Nebraska: http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/89_map.pdf
  6. [6] LBNL 2008. Economic Development Benefits from Wind Power in Nebraska: A Report for the Nebraska Energy Office, http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/44344.pdf
  7. [7] Nebraska Energy Office. Maximizing the Economic Developments of Wind Energy Development: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/
  8. [8] NREL. http://maps.nrel.gov/biomass
  9. [9] Official Nebraska Government Website, Biomass Energy Generation in Nebraska: http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/90.htm; http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/60.html
  10. [10] Retrieved May 31, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080109110629.htm
  11. [11] See http://www.abengoa.com/
  12. [12] http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2007/03/u-s-doe-to-invest-in-cellulose-to-ethanol-projects-47600
  13. [13] http://www.ethanolproducer.com/articles/6257/us-doe-usda-invest-$600-million-in-cellulosic
  14. [14] http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/201.htm
  15. [15] http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/09.html
  16. [16] http://www.creighton.edu/green/
  17. [17] http://www.nerenew.com/onfarmsolar.html
  18. [18] http://www.neo.ne.gov/publications/NebPVCaseStudy.pdf
  19. [19] http://www.epa.gov/agstar/documents/biogas_recovery_systems_screenres.pdf
  20. [20] http://www.google.org/egs/
  21. [21] http://www.dsireusa.org/library/includes/incentive2.cfm?Incentive_Code=NE01R&state=NE&CurrentPageID=1&RE=1&EE=1

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