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Power board tables farmer's request to sell wind power

(Sunday, June 20, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Paul Hammel, Omaha World-Herald, 06/18/04:
LINCOLN - The wind may be free. But, for now, a small farmer from Pilger, Neb., cannot profit from it, a state board ruled Thursday.

Citing confusion over the meaning of various laws, the Nebraska Power Review Board tabled a request from Pilger, Neb., farmer Dave Tobias to sell excess electricity from a small wind turbine to his local utility.

The board ordered the delay, to July 16, so it can request an opinion from the state attorney general on how federal and state requirements affect such small private wind projects.

The decision, officials said, points up a need to update state statutes, which date back to 1963. It also left Tobias and his family wondering about why his project - a 10 kilowatt, $40,000 wind tower capable of powering his farm - created such a legal fuss.

"It's a pain in the rear for five bucks a month," said Tobias' 14-year-old son, Nick.

That $5 was about what his father estimated he might earn on a good month by selling excess electricity to his local utility, Stanton County Public Power.

The power company had signed an agreement allowing Tobias to connect to the local power grid and sell his excess power for about 2 cents per kilowatt, the wholesale rate for electricity.

But state law requires approval of such agreements by the Power Review Board.

Thursday marked the first time the board had dealt with such a small project.

Board members said that Tobias' project did not meet the state's requirement that all new power generation projects use the most economical means and not duplicate existing supplies.

Board Chairman Rick Sanders, a Bellevue attorney, pointed out that Tobias' monthly interest payments on his loan would be almost double the $100 a month he expects to save in energy costs.

While experimental power projects of public utilities were exempted from the "most economical" standard by a new state law, the exemption was not extended to private entities.

Board members also questioned whether a federal law that requires utilities to purchase excess electricity from wind generators applies to Nebraska, the nation's only public power state.

Tobias, who is also a distributor for wind generators, said he planned to move ahead with construction, even if it means he cannot sell any power. Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom