Sneaky! While the Trump administration was weirdly promoting coal during last week’s climate talks, Facebook was busy working on a deal that revived a stalled-out wind power project in Nebraska. The new project is significant because it demonstrates how businesses can drive the demand for clean energy, even in parts of the US where the political winds are blowing against climate action.
Another New Wind Farm For Nebraska
Nebraska’s new clean power project is actually a re-hash of the old Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project in Dixon County. According to ABC News, Rattlesnake Creek has been gathering dust since 2013, when its original developer failed to find a buyer for its wind power.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Massachusetts-based Enel Green Power North America has picked up the slack.
What made the difference? Costs for wind energy and energy storage have been dropping, that’s what.
Wind farms also have a share-the-wealth angle that few fossil fuel projects can match. Rural Nebraskans may have mixed opinions about climate change, but it’s difficult to argue with the cold, hard cash flowing out of wind farms and into local coffers.
The $430 million, 320 megawatt project will sprawl across a 32,000-acre swath of land that involves more than 100 owners, who will benefit from a total of $80 million in property taxes and direct payments in the first 20 years of the wind farm’s operation.
In addition to 300 temporary construction jobs, the new wind farm will also bring 16 full-time jobs to the area. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s well within the scale of permanent employment expected from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. The pipeline will run through multiple states including Nebraska, bringing in a total of just 39 permanent jobs.
It’s also worth a mention that the pipeline is a pass-through. It will not introduce new energy supplies to Nebraska, and that means it will not have a ripple effect of any significance on economic activity in the state.
In contrast, Facebook’s new wind-powered data center is already on track to hire its first batch of 18 workers, with a total of 100 permanent positions expected once it’s up and running.
More Wind Power For Facebook
Facebook uses the “pot of tea” analogy for the power consumed by a single Facebook user. By the company’s accounting, that amount hasn’t changed much since its early days of operation, even though it has added apps (including — somewhat ironically — an energy-saving social gaming app) and other services over the years.
The real carbon challenge for Facebook is one of addition. In 2004 it had one million users. By the end of 2016 it toted up 1.86 billion.
That’s a lot of pots of tea, which explains why Facebook is shifting to renewable energy. The company has a 100% renewable goal. Its data centers are a primary area of focus because they account for 72% of its carbon footprint.
Facebook’s new data center will be located about 100 miles from the wind farm and will suck up about 200 megawatts of its capacity.
According to Enel, that’s enough to cover 100% of Facebook’s energy needs for the new data center.
Nebraska Dives Into Wind Power
This is Enel’s first wind power project in Nebraska, and it will probably not be its last.
As of this writing, Enel claims that it is the largest wind farm operator in nearby Kansas, where the falling cost of wind power is pushing coal out of the market.
Enel is also the second-largest wind farm operator in Oklahoma, where a new study has totaled up $134 million in wind farm tax revenues to local governments since 2004. Much of the benefit has gone to rural areas.
As for Nebraska, its representatives in Congress are not fans of climate action but they haven’t been particularly keen on tamping down wind power in their home state.
Here’s the rundown from the American Wind Energy Association, under the headline “Nebraska is a national leader in wind resource potential:”
…Nebraska now has 1,335MW of installed wind power, and was the 18th state to join the “Gigawatt Club.” Nebraska’s wind potential, combined with manufacturing expertise, could make the state a powerhouse for the wind industry while providing savings for electricity customers. The state lies in the Southwest Power Pool(SPP), where wind power saved electricity customers $1.2 billion in 2013.
In an interesting coincidence of timing, the Nebraska Public Service Commission is set to rule on its leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. A decision is imminent so stay tuned.
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