The Impact of Federal and State Legislation on Renewable Energy Development for Consumer-Owned Utilities
by Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns
August 21, 2000

Nebraskans have witnessed first hand the effect developing a renewable energy industry can have in rural areas. Our efforts to build an ethanol industry have clearly demonstrated that harnessing renewable energy for economic development can have long-term positive benefits.

For a state like Nebraska, the production of energy from wind and biomass could be another road to success. I see it as the equivalent of Wyoming coal, Kansas gas or Oklahoma crude. Each state is simply making the most of the resources within its boundaries. And for us, wind and biomass crops may be the ticket to success.

However, the impacts of an ethanol plant differ considerably from a wind farm. Just look at these facts:

  • A farmer who leases a quarter acre of cropland to the local utility as a site for a wind turbine can typically earn $2,000 a year in royalties from the electricity produced. In a good year, that same plot can produce $100 worth of corn.
  • In Nebraska, an acre of rangeland typically produces only $20 worth of beef a year. An acre planted in wheat may yield $120.
  • The attraction of wind power is obvious. For ranchers with prime wind sites, income from wind could easily exceed that from cattle sales.
  • One of the attractions of wind energy is that the turbines scattered across a farm or ranch do not interfere with the use of the land for farming or cattle grazing.
  • Another factor is that much of the income generated stays in local communities, whereas the money spent for electricity from a coal plant may go to Wyoming.
  • With a single large turbine generating $100,000 or more worth of electricity a year, harnessing local wind energy can revitalize rural communities.
  • Not only do the wind farms themselves provide income and jobs, but in some areas, manufacturing facilities may follow. That's been the case in Illinois and North Dakota. In Nebraska, we hope a market will develop for Valmont's turbine-supporting towers.

In looking further down the road, inexpensive, abundant electricity from wind could be used to electrolyze water, thereby producing hydrogen — which some believe will become the "gasoline of the future." With automobiles powered by fuel cell engines expected on the market within a few years, and with hydrogen as the fuel of choice for these engines, a huge new industry could sprout on the Plains next to our ethanol plants and wind turbines. Wouldn't that be a sight for sore eyes? Talk about hitting a renewable energy trifeca! And don't forget that ethanol could also be used to power fuel cells.

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