LINCOLN | A Kansas company planning what could turn into a $400 million wind farm in Dixon County, Neb., hopes to begin construction by the end of the year.
"That is our goal ... in order to qualify for the federal tax benefits which are significant and a key element that allow all wind projects ... to offer the very attractive pricing we are able to provide to our utility customers, be they located in Nebraska or elsewhere," said Frank Costanza, executive vice president of TradeWind Energy Inc. of Lenexa, Kan.
The Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project is planned on more than 20,000 acres scattered around Allen, Emerson and Wakefield. More than 100 landowners will be involved. When completed, the project could produce enough power for approximately 60,000 homes.
Because Nebraska is a public-power state, building the project was contingent on state lawmakers passing a bill last session by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop that removed a barrier to the development and export of wind-generated energy in Nebraska.
Proponents of the legislation said the state needed to act if it wanted to develop its abundant wind resources, because a major wind-energy incentive -- a federal production tax credit -- is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
Nebraska lags in the production of wind energy. Iowa, for example, generates more than 11 times as much wind power as Nebraska -- 5,137 megawatts to 459, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Nebraska ranks last among its neighboring states and 26th of the 39 states that generate wind energy, despite having the fourth-best wind resources in the country.
Lathrop's bill fell under the Nebraska Advantage Act, which took effect in 2006 and is meant to encourage companies to expand and create jobs by offering them tax incentives. Costanza said the company has yet to apply for the Nebraska tax incentives.
Tradewind is required under the legislation to offer 10 percent of the power it generates to Nebraska utilities while shipping 90 percent out of state.
"Until we know whether these utilities are in or out -- i.e. want to buy power from the project -- we don’t know the exact size of the project and as a consequence we don’t know the cost of the project," Costanza said. "These details are part and parcel of the tax refund process. The measure provides a sales tax exemption for the purchase of turbines, towers and other wind-farm components, which Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma have used to create a wind-energy boom."
The 200-megawatt wind farm would provide lease payments to local landowners of $10,000 to $15,000 per turbine, create 200 construction jobs and 12 to 16 permanent jobs, and pay $700,000 a year in local taxes.
Before the legislation passed, Sen. Ken Schilz, of Ogallala, unsuccessfully proposed gutting Lathrop's bill and replacing it with another bill, by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, that would encourage more local ownership of renewable energy projects. It would allow a sales tax exemption on materials used, as long as 25 percent of gross revenues went to Nebraska businesses or individuals. The Mello legislation will again be considered by lawmakers next session.