Frequently Asked Questions:
Wind projects in Nebraska generate tax revenue through a special “Nameplate Capacity Tax” for renewable energy generation and through normal real property taxes. The Nameplate Capacity Tax is fixed by state law at $3,518 per MW. It is based on equipment above ground: the turbines. It is a substitute for personal property tax on that equipment. The equipment on and under the ground–such as the turbine foundations, roads, and so forth–are assessed real property taxes. These vary from county to county and year to year but are typically around $3,000 per MW.
For a 30 MW project such as Kimball, this would total approximately $195,540 in annual tax revenue. $140,788 of this would go to local schools.
Most wind projects are built to last 30 years or more. This means that the total tax revenue for a 60 MW project would be approximately $5,866,200 for the lifetime of the project. $4,223,664 of this lifetime total would go to the local schools.
Wind Turbines and Health
The effect of wind turbines on health has been extensively studied by a range of scientists from around the world. Wind turbines have been given a clean bill of health. No direct adverse health effects have been found.
For those who do not like wind turbines, hearing the sound of a turbine or looking at a turbine may be an irritation. This annoyance may slightly elevate stress levels for those folks, resulting in the normal effects on the body relating to stress. Stress resulting from being irritated by turbines—particularly for the “hypersensitive annoyed population” who do not like wind turbines—is the only negative health impact to be shown in the epidemiological literature to date.
For more information:
The Australian Government has done an excellent job reviewing the major scientific literature, finding no adverse health effects from wind turbines.
The Canadian Government came to the same conclusion when it looked at the science.
Wind Turbines and Property Values
Oftentimes folks who live near to a proposed wind farm are concerned that their property values will be affected by the construction. There is no need to worry. Numerous studies have shown that there is no unique impact on property values or the rate of land or home sales near wind turbines.
Two studies [here and here] by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also found no impact on property values. One of these studies is considered the gold-standard of research in this area. It looked at 50,000 home sales in 27 counties and 9 states. The homes were within 10 miles of 67 different wind facilities, and nearly 1,200 of the sales were within 1 mile of a facility. The study found “no statistical evidence that home values near turbines were affected in the post-construction or post-announcement/pre-construction periods.”
Additional extensive studies have been completed in New England. Researchers in Rhode Island looked at nearly 50,000 single-family home transactions within 5 miles of wind turbines over 13 years. They found “no statistical evidence of a large, adverse effect” on property values. Another study in Massachusetts analyzed more than 122,000 home sales over 14 years that occurred near the current or announced location of 41 turbines. No impact on home sales was found.
Wind Turbines and Birds
Wind turbines are responsible for a small fraction of annual North American bird deaths. A recent peer-reviewed study, which took in information from an additional 116 other studies, determined that wind turbines result in between 214,000 and 368,000 birds deaths annually. This number may seem high until it is put in line with other sources of bird mortality. In fact, wind turbines are responsible for only less than .1% of bird deaths.
Power lines kill about 30 million birds a year, collisions with cars and trucks kill about 200 million a year, collisions with buildings kill about 600 million year, and cats kill an astounding 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds a year. To put that in perspective: cats kill 10,000 times more birds than wind turbines do.
Moreover, scientific understanding of bird nesting and migration habits as well as bird interactions with turbines has greatly increased in recent years. This has resulted in much more strict and strategic state and federal rules for wind turbine sitings. As old, poorly sited wind projects retire and are replaced by more carefully sited projects, the impact on birds is expected to diminish.
In the Sandhills we are particularly concerned for our Greater Prairie-Chickens. The most recent research shows that mortality, reproduction, and lek selection are not significantly affected by the presence of turbines.
For more information, AWEA has an excellent summary of the impact of wind turbines on birds, and the relative environmental impact of wind compared to other forms of energy generation.
Cost of Wind Energy
One concern that often comes up when folks think about wind energy is cost. Is wind energy competitive? Can the companies who build wind farms and sell wind energy turn a profit? Does putting up a wind turbine actually make economic sense?
The answer to all of these questions is: YES
When looking at the economics of wind, the key term is Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE). Different types of energy plants (wind, solar, water, gas, coal, nuclear, etc.) experience costs at different times.
For a wind farm almost all of the cost of producing energy is encountered during construction. Once the turbines are up, the fuel is free (you don’t have to pay for wind). Also, the operating costs are low: no one needs to “run” the farm, just maintain it. So wind energy tends to cost slightly more when the farm is new. Then over time its cost of energy gets lower and lower, as few expenses are incurred to keep making power.
In contrast, a coal plant would see significant cost up-front to build the plant, then higher costs to run the plant. Critically, the owner of the plant has to continually buy more coal to burn. This means that the cost of energy at the beginning of the life of the plant may be slightly lower than wind, but over time the continual fuel and operating expenses will result in higher long-term cost for power.
The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) takes all of this into consideration and determines the total cost of all energy produced during the lifetime of the plant divided by the total amount of energy produced. LCOE thus allows an apples-to-apples comparison between the different forms of energy production.
So, what is the LCOE for wind?
Each year, the investment firm Lazard analyzes the LCOE for all major forms of energy generation. This is the industry standard report, giving the best picture of the costs of energy. According to the most recent analysis, wind energy is now the lowest-cost form of energy generation.
Let’s repeat that: Wind energy is the cheapest energy.
Here is a wonderful graph of the historical LCOE values for all major forms of energy generation:
It is often claimed that wind energy could not be competitive without federal subsidies (known as Production Tax Credits or PTCs). This may have been true several years ago, but is no longer the case. The Lazard analysis cited above ranks energy costs without any federal or state subsidies. So, with no subsidy wind is the cheapest form of energy generation. Appropriately, the PTC has been scheduled for phaseout over the next five years (through 2021).
Even were wind to rely on federal subsidy, this would make it no different than any other source of energy. All energy sources are currently subsidized in the US.
Opponents of green energy often point out that wind energy receives the most direct federal energy subsidy. This is true, so far as it goes. It leaves out the fact that most federal energy subsidies are not “direct” payments or tax credits. The majority of subsidies are “indirect” benefits written into tax law and other federal code. The fossil fuel industry has been working subsidies into law for over a century and has accumulated a huge number of financial perks. When the full range of these benefits are accounted for, it is clear that fossil fuels receive far more subsidies than renewables like wind.
Because of the many ways the U.S. government supports the fossil fuel industry, the total amount of US federal fossil fuel subsidy is difficult to determine. However, reliable estimates of federal fossil fuel subsidies range from nearly $10 billion to well over $50 billion annually.
For a good list of the major ways fossil fuels are subsidized, head here.