Congressional action paves way for Neb. wind farms

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Congress' extension of a wind energy tax credit has paved the way for two large wind farm projects in Nebraska to proceed as planned.

The state's two largest public power utilities last month approved the wind projects, conditional on the renewal of the tax credit, which was included in federal legislation passed Tuesday to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

Omaha Public Power District now plans to buy 200 megawatts from the proposed 120 wind turbine Prairie Breeze Wind Energy Center near Elgin in northeast Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/UqVIg6).

The power district _ which serves Nebraska's largest city and its surrounding communities _ hopes to start receiving electricity from Prairie Breeze by Jan. 1, 2014. That's enough to power about 60,000 homes annually.

Chicago-based developer Invenergy said the Prairie Breeze project represents a $350 million capital investment and could create 300 construction jobs.

Nebraska Public Power District also is looking to Prairie Breeze to provide as much as 75 megawatts of renewable energy, and is considering buying from a proposed wind farm near Steele City in southeast Nebraska's Jefferson County.

``There's no question that the production tax credit extension is the difference between wind projects on the drawing board going forward or not,'' said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, a strong supporter of wind energy in the state.

The American Wind Energy Association has said as many as 37,000 jobs could have been lost beginning in the first quarter of the year if the production tax credits had not been renewed. The wind industry employs about 75,000 workers.

Even with the extension, hundreds of jobs in the industry were lost, including 200 in Nebraska when Katana Summit closed plants in Columbus and in the state of Washington in early November.

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