Wind turbines near Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Tarik Abdel-Monem via Creative Commons)

In Nebraska, farmers hope to take control of wind production

A group of Nebraska farmers are attempting to put a new face on renewable power in their state.

If they succeed in persuading a utility to buy their power, they will be the first local owner-producers in Nebraska to generate electricity with wind turbines on their land, and to sell it to a utility for distribution.

It’s a big “if.”

“We want to be more energy-independent,” said Graham Christensen, president of Burt County Wind. “We think these local energy opportunities are part of how we’re going to generate energy in the future.”

Wind farms are operating in Nebraska, but to date they all belong to out-of-state owners, according to Christensen, who is pursuing local ownership of renewable energy production. There are many such community-owned energy producers in neighboring Iowa, as well as in Minnesota.

“We need all of the community re-investments we can get,” said Kevin Anderson, one of the 22 farmers involved in the project. “We don’t get many big investments, so for schools and county taxes, this could be quite beneficial.”

In 2007, the Nebraska legislature passed a law defining some parameters around the development of community-based energy developments.

Burt County Wind got underway about four years ago, at the urging of Kevin Anderson. He farms outside the town of Craig, about 60 miles north of Omaha. An out-if-state developer had approached Anderson about building a wind farm on his land.

“I didn’t like that they’d take the majority of the money out-of-state,” he said. Anderson began working with Christensen, and they recruited another 21 farmers who were interested in investing in a wind project.

They created a limited liability corporation, hired consultants to measure the wind speed and determine whether any endangered or threatened species might be harmed (they wouldn’t), and tested the transmission system to determine whether it could reliably carry the additional power (it could).

Their plan calls for six turbines, to be split between two locations, that could produce 12 megawatts of power.

Now they have to convince a utility in the area to buy the power that the system would generate. They’ve been talking with representatives of Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) and the Nebraska Public Power District.

“We’re currently in the evaluation process,” said Tim Burk, the vice-president of customer service and public affairs for OPPD.

The district now derives 10 percent of its power from renewable sources and aims to boost that, Burk said. He’d like to purchase power from Nebraska wind farms, but he’s looking for wind power at “competitive prices.” With the federal production tax credit set to expire in 2014, he said, many wind producers are trying to expand. As a result, he said, wind energy right now is available at rather low prices.

Although power from his farmer co-op might cost more than other wind sources, Christensen says that locally-owned power pays off in other ways. The Burt County project would hire local contractors, would borrow money from a local bank, and would pay proceeds to 22 owners in the community.

“One challenge is the mindset about today’s electricity rates,” he said, adding that it’s important to take into account “other revenue streams.”

Burk said he’s not convinced that the Burt County project, as a community-owned business, would boost the local economy any more than other wind producers.

By January, Burk said he expects to make a decision about what wind source OPPD will tap.

Christensen said he is continuing discussions with OPPD and others, in the hope that one of them will see virtue in not just wind energy, but locally-owned wind energy.

“Where the power purchase agreement will come from,” he said, “nobody knows.”

4 thoughts on “In Nebraska, farmers hope to take control of wind production

  1. It is great to see Nebraska´s farmers doing this. I am an ex-pat U-S- Vet residing in Germany. Germany, Austria and Switzerland have increasing amounts of farmers cooperatives utillizing wind, rooftop solar, and, as back up to the solar and wind- septic tank sludge-manure methane recapture – for combined power heat generation. Some rural regions in Germany and Austria utilizing all three methods consistently produce 3 times as much power as they consume, selling on power to their local utilities. Wildpoldsried, in the Allgäu region of S.W. Bavaria, Germany, is perhaps the best known village in Germany where all three are systematically applied.
    (Google “Wildpoldsried.” They have a website – with an English language portal as well which shows how the cooperatives – built out solar p.v. on the rooftops, solar heat – systems- on non-farm village buildings, and how
    they utilize manure methane – from cattle, pig, and poultry operations- (and septic tank sludge) to generate methane powering combined heat power units- for farmhouse power and heat as a supplement to the wind and solar.

    Considering that Germany is not as blessed with solar insolation as the American midwest, and not as blessed with wind- those are significant achievements.

    Oshe Grey Davidson´s “Clean Break” is an e-book that partially describes the German “Energiewende”- Energy Transition. It gets into “manure methane recapture” to a degree.

    Waste to power systems are excellent forms of reducing fossil fuel costs and emissions. Choking on both sewage and garbage, Munich´s city owned utilities opted to build out waste to power systems back in the late seventies.

    They built out a large sewage sludge-methane recapture system also using chopped compost material from the vegetable wholesale market, and separately collected unsold vegetables from supermarkets and vegetable stands- which also digest leaves and grass clippings.

    That fires a small power plant – since upgraded to combined cycle gas and steam- which also feeds its built out and expanding district heat system. It goes through a two phase – paddle methane digester system- and after extraction- the mixed sludge is archimedean screw pumped to its large garbage incineration plant which avoids garbage dump methane emissions by burning all garbage for power, also feeding its extensively built out and still connecting district heat system. The bio gas plant generates 100 mWh and the garbage incinertion plant generates 500 mWh in addition to feeding the district heat system. The city utilies long ago hooked up Munich´s zoo buildings to district heat… and they recently installed another paddle methane generation unit at the zoo, whichtakes all the animal manure- guano- plus the uneaten waste food, straw, etc.. and to generate enough bio-gas- to power a small combined cycle power plant- producing more than enough power and heat to power all buildings, and pump more power andheat into the district grids.

    Now, Germany already has 5000 farms equipped with varying efficiency manure methane recapture systems in addition to rooftop solar voltaic installed on te F.I.T. program. Those 5000 methane recapture systems deliver 800 megawatts, an averagre of 160 per farm unit.

    Optimizing methane recapture-in dual digester tanks- and using improved ICE- with upgraded A+++ generators, coupled with Stirling heat recapture motors driving A+++ boosts the power output- to over 220 kWh per small farm unit. Now, city and town owned utilities are contracting further farmers to build ut, forward financing the installtions, and installing double the p.g. capacities. SMART GRID coordinating p.g. – to twice a day- instead of 24/7. i.e. from 5:30 A.M. when morning demand starts to rise- to 11:30 p.m. when all the installed rooftop solar kicks in, and again in the late efternoons or early evening- depending on season when solar output starts to drop again. That is instead of installing an average of 220 kWh in manure methane p.g. for 24/7 p.g. on the average German farm, city and town utilitiy cooperation has them store gas in pressurized tanks, for twice a day p.g. with double the output- namely an average of 440 kWh.
    This program is just getting started. When extended to all 200.000 or so German farms which come into question- that will mean an additional- 88.000 megawatts, or 88 gigawatts of power, SMART GRID coordinated coming on line twice a day to supplement all the rooftop solar going in. By 2025- the combination of rooftop solar with the back up agrarian manure methane p.g. power and heat systems – (displacing heating oil) operating twice a day in the moring and evenings to cover peak power needs- will provide over 1/3rd of future German power needs. (In addition to the 25% waste to power systems in German city thermodynamic power generation systems.)

    Munich utlities always applied combined heat power systems. Back in 1872, Bavaria`s mad-king Ludwig II built Linderhof castle in the Bavarian Alps. He was the first to do combined heat power there- in the castle complex- using a steam system to drive steam piston engine generatingdirect current- to provide electricity for Limelight lighting (a full 7 years before edison invented the light bulb and ´providing heat to the palace and servants quarters.) And ever since, Munich always used combined heat power systems. (the grid is now over 600 km long and intensively connecting, saving the purchase o 6 million barrels of heating oil per annum, and selling heat pro-rated at 2/3rds the price of heating oil, it is an excellent profit center for city owned utilities- which are combined with urban transit. Over the decades, Muich has used its profits from district heat to build out and operate 6 cross town subway lines, and 14 light rail streetcar lines- plus a fleet of 400 single and dual frame busses with ultra efficient TDI engines. They have a ticket union with German rail commuter trains exteding out in 15 different directions around town. That is all powered by wind power. Over the last 15 years, Munich Utilites used profits from its district heat to participate in inland wind parks, North Sea and Baltic sea coastline wind parks, and a umber of offshore wind park projects, and is still building out its wind capacities. Today, Munich Utilities supply 160.000 2 person households with power from hydro-electric, and 800.000 average two person households with wind power, plus use wind power to drive its 6 crosstown subway lines, and 14 light rail streetcar lines which intersect at several points with German Rail commuter lines.

    I advisedly note that the German “sustainability sector”- i.e. energy efficiency and renewable energy systems have now overtaken the German automotive industry as the biggest sector in the German economy- and is also a large part of its trillion Euro a year export volume. And, as systematic application of “energy efficiency” and “renewable energy” measures also cut fossil fuel consumption and fossil fuel imports- that reflects in the national balance of payment surplus, and in decreasing rates of unemployment.
    As a whole, Germany has a per capita fossil fuel consumption rate that is less than 50% of the U.S. average, and some regions like Munich already have it down to less than a 3rd.
    Renewable energy systems such as solar, wind, anchored on stream, non dam hydroelecric, geothermal have a different calculation- 80% of the costs are up front in manufacture and installation, while 20% are cleaning and maintenance costs over the amortization period. (solar voltaic istallations have to be cleaned. And now German engineers have figured out a methods of keeping them “deforested and clean of snow” in winter months which is an added costs, but which icreases total efficiency ad shortens amortization.
    At the moment, Munich supplies 960.000 two peson households and its public transportation system with wind power, and purchases rooftop solar power on the feed in tariff scheme from local installations of over 500 megawatts already installed.
    They expect over 2000 megawatts of local rooftop solar to be installed by the end of 2025.. which is why it is engaging in the program to contract local farmers- to build out manure methane capture- as described above.. as a cost effective- fossil fuel free- supplementary back up for all the rooftop solar going in
    (rooftop solar prices are dropping- and panel efficiencies are being doubled from 18% to 38%- which will drop prices per installed producing watt- from about €2 Euros to less than E 80 Euro cents- meaning a doubling of annual national installation rates to about 15 gWh per annum. (That is why the city an town utilities are participatig in buildig out agrarian manure methane recapture systems in SMART GRID coordinated mode to supplement solar- for a constant 16 hour per day power supply durig peak demand periods. At the currrent pace of acceleratig solar p.v. build out- Muich utilities expect over 2000 megawatts of locally installed solar to be in place by mid 2025- and they will complement that by
    1. a build out of contracted manure methane recapture p.g. as descrbied above, and
    2. an extra- build out of nat gas fired mirco-combined heat power systems displacing heating oil units- SMART GRID coordinated in outlying areas not reached by district heat. For example, sending teams in to multi-family dwellings in the suburbs to tear out the old heating oil units, and replacing them with a nat gas fired, VW rabbit engine- driving a 20 kWh generator and using its cooling water and hot exhausts to produce 40 kWh in heat in distributed SMART GRID coordinated mode will cost the utilities about 25.000 per unit. Doing 100.000 residential, large commercial and office buildigs in the regio that cannot be cost effectively hooked up to district heat- with this micro-combined heat power system- will put an additional 2000 megawatts onto the local grids to displace the one regional Isar 1 nuclear power plants that was shut down-
    It is a rapidl self amortizig system as it produces both heat which it sells to the building owners and power with low real estate costs (12 million in annual “cellar space rents” with no espensive zoning or environmental impact hearings. That is, while their customers install solar on the rooftops, they come in and instll CHP systems to supplement the solar- at night – while producing heat at the same time. Solar is currently installed on only 500.000 German rooftops. However, there over 10.000.000 rooftops with oil heating units that can be correspondingly used for solar p.v. and oil heat in the cellars corresponingly displaced by nat gas fired, combined heat power systems on a SMART GRID coordinated basis.

    Germany mandates that all new German buildings either hook up to to a district heat system, use a combined geothermal- solar heated heat pump system, and/or apply nat gas fired micro-combined heat power.

    The Munich district heat system is also energy efficient. The city utilities upgraded two 200 megawatt coal buring plants to nat gas fired combined gas and steam turbine generation systems puttig out 500 megawatts apiece with a 60% gas to power conversion efficiency- and then cooling and recondensing the steam on district heat- boosting efficiencies to 95%.

    And now, it is experimenting with putting big 250 kWh Stirling motors on large building- district heat interfaces.
    (5000) and smaller 5 to 20 kWh Stirling motors driving generators on 20000 district heat – building interfaces- which could possibly squeeze out another – 1.500 megawatts per hour- out of the district heat system. That in turn could generate syn-gas hydrogen- in advanced fuel cell systems- which have an output of over 400 liters per input – kWh..Using 1 gWh in built local fuel cell hydrogen power solar, wind -buffering systems this way – could generate-400.000 cubic meters of syngas an hour-feeding right back into two big combined cycle power plants, and a still to be upgraded from 400 megawtt coal fired plant to combined cycle- 800 megawatt power plant feeding the district heat system correspondingly displacing the nat gas and coal.

    Energy efficiency. The shift to renewables is also being accompanied by a broad synergy of energy efficiency measures.
    The most obvious energy efficiency measure going into place was the introductio of screw in flourescent lighting to displace- incandescent light bulbs- reducing power needs. And, as these slowly wear out, the next generation of lighting, LED lighting, even more efficient, is taking its place. An LED lamp usig only 4 watts produces the light produced by a 75 watt bulb, with 20 times the lifetime.
    That is an energy efficiency saving of 95%.
    Refrigerators and freezers, and air conditioners are other major energy consumers. Replacing older, inefficient refridgeators and freezers with better insulated units, and with A+++ rated motors cuts average household power use by another 30%. Upgrading other appliances, either by having applianc repairmen come in and replace the motors on washig machines, dishwashers and dryers- and air conditioners with A+++ for a cost efficient upgrade of homes with built in appliances also cut consumption. Likewise, getting rid of old vacuum tube television sets and computer monitors replacing with energy efficient- LED screens slashes consumption. Add buildig management systems and you achieve power consumptio cuts of up to 6- 65%.
    Siemens poer management systems combied with a+++ drive motors slashes the consumption on a food processing or industrial production line by 60%.
    People forget to turn off lights. In Germany, hallway and stairwell lightig that turns off automatically after a few minutes is standard. Now, Siemens energy managemet systems, use c.n.c. programming to automatically turn off office building, school, hotel and residential lighting in rooms when not in use.. further cutting consumption.
    Buiilding eergy management system c.n.c. regulating the heat or air conditioning in rooms according to usage.

    I shall close o wind again. Germany and Denmark were the first two countries to systematically start building out onshore, coastline, and offshore wind. In their two decade build ot, they have learned a lot about increasing output while cutting the costs per producig megawatt. Increasing tower heights and blade lengths, while lightening generator housing and blade weight to length ratios enable high tower wind turbines. (Say the Siemens SWT 6 with a 140 meter high tower and 80 meter long blades.- with advanced blade construction that optimizes the wind pick ups.(also manufactured in Fort Madison Missouri- not far from Nebraska.)

    Germany has a much lower solar insolation input and lower inland wind capacity than the U.S. midwest region, yet it is still managing to do a massive build out of those two – sastems to help it replace the nuclear power systems it has already partially shut down and will totally shut down by the end of 2022- and rapdicly diminish fossil fuel consumption at the same time.

    U.S. mid-west could well do to look at Germany´s broad and expanding synergy of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures it is applying in its “Energiewende”.
    As companies like Vestas and Siemens are global players in Energy- they also have their own “financial services” departments -which assist utility customers and co-ops in getting cost effective forward financing packaging for the renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

    On a broader ote, sustainability is the biggest sector in today´s German economy, even larger than its booming automotive sector. And because sustainability measures have already reduced fossil fuel consumption per capita to less than 50% of U.S. per capita cosumption, that cuts overall energy costs- leaving money to reinvest in energy efficiency and renewable enregy (creating a booming sector paying local, state and federal taxes) and also cutting government energy costs as well.
    Now, while everybody worries about city, state and federal deficits i the U.S., Germany is again approaching full employment thanks to its “sustainability sector” industry and thanks to its “sustainability sector” saving money on energy- letting money be spent elsewhere.

    Unemployment is dropping rapidly due to a number of factors, – and the economies are booming- meaning more taxes – on a local, state and Federal level. While other countries deal with government defiits, thanks to its booming “sustainability” sector, German local, state, and Federal governments actually posted a 6 billion “surplus” for the 1st half of the year, 2013 and expect to close the year with a 12 billion Euro surplus on all 3 levels –

  2. I´d like to add a P.S. on this. Looking at the beautiful sunset picture of wind turbines near Licoln Nebraska by Tark Abdel-Monem, I happen to notice that the blades are slightly curved, and recognize the housings. Those are Siemens SWT turbines- with the blades manufactured in Fort Madison, Missouri -as close to local Nebraska blade production as one can currently get. (They look like SWT 3 – 3 megawatt turbines.
    And what Mr. Anderson is proposing is a small wind park using Siemens SWT 3 turbines. Siemens does have experience in helping farmer´s cooperatives to build out wind turbines (starting with the Wildpoldsried project in Southwest Bavaria… which also applies “manure methane recapture” power genreation on local dairy and feed lot systems as well as rooftop solar and solar heat in its energy mix to generate 3 times more power than the town consumes, selling on excess power to the regional Allgäu utility system.

    Siemens is a globally operating company, and its Siemens Financial Services division is experienced in helping cooperatives find the forward financing package they want.

  3. Kent… Those machines in the pictures are Vestas V-47 wind turbines with 660kW generators.

  4. Very appreciable steps are taken by the Nebraska´s farmers in the field of electricity production from wind. Once the wind turbine is built, the energy it produces does not cause green house gases or other environmental pollutants.