R-Project helps alleviate risk

By The North Platte Telegraph

We are writing in response to state Sen. Tom Brewer’s article in the July 28 edition of The Telegraph, “R-Project puts too much at risk.”

Brewer has been informed in public and private meetings with NPPD the objective reasoning for the need to redirect electricity from Sutherland to Holt County and simply refuses to hear it.

NPPD stated its objectives to build the 225-mile transmission line from the Gerald Gentleman coal-fired power plant near Sutherland north to Thedford and east to Holt County. Those objectives are, in order of priority:

» To alleviate congestion (several major transmission lines already in the Platte Valley).

» To increase reliability (circumvent a large area of central Nebraska prone to damaging ice storms).

» To offer opportunity for future renewable energy development such as wind and solar, with access to major transmission lines.

Brewer said, “I think the proposed R-Project is being built specifically for wind energy development in the Sandhills.”

Brewer mentioned the Cherry County Wind Energy Association in his article in The Telegraph and said the CCWEA and five other projects were responsible for wanting to expand transmission into the Sandhills. We are landowner members of CCWEA and have been promoting the economic opportunities of wind energy development.

There are three economic opportunities we will offer detail on:

» Property tax relief for landowners: Brewer’s figures quoted from the Southwest Power Pool website show the potential for six wind energy projects generating 1500 megawatts of electricity would generate $5,277,000 in nameplate capacity taxes as mandated in Nebraska Statute Title 316, Chapter 13 of the Nebraska Department of Revenue. Approximately $3,750,000 (depending on county assessor appraisals) of personal property tax would also be generated from these hypothetical estimates. Nine million dollars in taxes per year generated in the counties along the 225-mile corridor would be significant!

» Landowner lease revenue: With livestock and crop prices in recent years hovering near or below break-even, renewable energy offers a way to diversify for Nebraska farmers and ranchers. Brewer said only a handful of landowners would benefit from development and he added, “Money in the hands of a few people is the main reason” for the R-Line project. A 225-mile length of transmission line will offer lease payments for many landowners and property tax relief for several hundred more.

With all the failed property tax relief proposals in the Legislature over many recent years, why has not one state senator, including Brewer, linked renewable energy development as a potential or partial solution to this outdated and inequitable form of taxation? Three to four generations back, when 90 percent of Nebraskans lived on the land, property taxes were fair and equitable. Today the majority of Nebraskans live in three counties (Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster). It seems the Legislature’s higher priority is keeping sales and income taxes low to attract industry, technology companies and other commerce to the urban areas of Nebraska. We concede that all homeowners pay significant property taxes as well, and lately even urban Nebraskans have protested property taxes. Brewer’s insistence that there are improprieties within county government has been disproven by the Nebraska Accountabilities and Disclosure Commission.

Brewer referenced destroying an endangered species in his opening statement. Nebraska farmers and ranchers may be the endangered species destroyed if property taxes are not balanced with sales and income tax. For example, in one Sandhills county, property taxes have gone up 90 percent in seven years. This is not sustainable!

Brewer has been given many opportunities to understand the real needs of his constituents. In his latest column, he misses the boat in a big way. Our national cattlemen’s groups are moving forward to reform the Endangered Species Act in an attempt to regain some power from federal oversight on our private lands.

» The third economic opportunity is long-term energy cost. The landscape of electricity generation has changed over the last five to 10 years and will continue to change going forward. From 2015-2017, 39 gigawatts of coal generation were retired. An additional 12 gigawatts will be retired in 2018. Nuclear production for electricity is waning, as well, with the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant shutting down right here in Nebraska this year. Natural gas is filling most of that void. Renewables are growing and complement natural gas very well. Even though coal is abundant, it has become too expensive compared to natural gas and renewables.

Lazard, an asset management company, provides analytical cost discovery for all sources of electrical generation. Lazard has performed levelized cost of energy analysis for more than 10 years. Wind energy is now the most economical of all sources of generation due to advancements in research and development. Lazard’s analysis shows these unsubsidized costs in the Midwest:

» Wind $32-51/MWh

» Solar $67-215/MWh

» Natural gas $57-101/MWh

» Coal $57-148/MWh

» Nuclear $94-139/MWh

Even though renewable energy is increasingly cost-competitive and energy storage holds great promise, renewable energy alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generating needs for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the optimal solution for many regions is to use complementary traditional sources and renewable sources in a diversified fashion. This concept bodes well for expanding the electrical transmission grid (i.e., the R-Line) to facilitate movement of energy to sites of greatest need (i.e., drought areas utilizing irrigation or urban sites for greater air-conditioning needs).

Surrounding states have embraced renewable energy more than Nebraska, capturing a lower cost of electricity.

We are not confident that rural Nebraskans will get property tax relief in the current unicameral legislative structure. The bulwark of capitalism and entrepreneurship is grass-roots people helping themselves.

Sen. George Norris’ public power vision electrified our rural homes and businesses. Sen. Brewer’s threatening our public power system in Nebraska is an unnecessary expenditure of precious legislative time. It is time for Brewer to get his eye on the ball and get back to work on property tax relief at the Unicameral (another of Norris’ hard-won accomplishments), while private citizens are allowed to figure out how to keep another generation ranching and farming in the 43rd District.

David Hamilton of Thedford is vice president of Cherry County Wind, of which Bree Denaeyer is a board member. Both are fourth-generation landowners in Cherry County.

This article provided by NewsEdge.