Op-Ed: Other utilities should buy wind energy

The Midwest gains a lot from investing in wind energy. It is a homegrown resource, and it's abundant -- Nebraska ranks third in the nation for wind energy potential.

Wind energy also offers new jobs -- in manufacturing, construction and services -- and is a welcome source of revenue for communities and landowners that host projects.

When all is said and done, investing in wind energy carries a lot of benefits that utilities and customers should want to promote and take advantage of at the same time.

The recent contract signed by Lincoln Electric System to purchase 100 megawatts of wind energy is a positive step by the utility to not only increase its renewable energy portfolio, but because it offers cheaper energy to consumers.

Wind energy has grown quite a bit as an industry, with the power and materials becoming cheaper to produce by the year, and many parts are being produced right here in the United States. In fact, in 2012, 75 percent of all parts used were produced domestically. That's a significant jump from the 25 percent made in the United States in 2007.

This local sourcing also has lead to lower prices for turbines, which decreases the overall price of wind farms and other projects. That drop in price, along with improvements in the transmission that helps move wind energy to different markets, led to cheaper wind energy. From the high point in 2009, prices have fallen from an average of $70 per megawatt hour to an average of between $20 and $40 per megawatt hour in 2012.

Right now, utilities get a great bargain from purchasing wind energy, getting it for the best price to date.

As the Lincoln Journal Star pointed to in an editorial July 26, "Lincoln Electric System should be encouraged," LES more than doubled its projected renewable energy use through this purchase, going from 11 percent by 2016 to the current projection of 23 percent. This investment means that customers will be getting a lot more of their power from renewable resources, and it increases LES' investment in a growing industry.

The rest of Nebraska's utilities would be wise to do the same.

Because of this drop in price, wind energy has become one of the most successful forms of renewable energy for the Midwest and has begun to rival fossil fuels. Coal, which has experienced a rise in price, has become more costly than wind energy.

Considering that many coal plants are aging and require expensive maintenance or upgrades, the overall cost of coal is expected to increase even further.

LES has made a wise investment for the future, and that investment will pay off for customers in the long run. While we would have preferred to see LES purchase power from wind farms here in Nebraska, we understand that the economics didn't allow for it.

What we don't understand is the reluctance on the part of the rest of Nebraska's utilities to get serious about locking in these affordable prices. Instead, they extol the virtues of fossil fuels, pretending as if we as customers are not smart enough to know that the costs -- both long-term and short-term -- aren't worth it.

We need to be bold, and we need investment in the future of our rural communities. Customers in Nebraska have a unique opportunity to reach out to their power providers, as well as elected officials that help make power purchase decisions. We can all make it known that we don't want to reinvest in something that is only going to get more expensive, especially when we have the opportunity for savings now and in the future.