Key Industries
Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Renewable sources of energy are known to be cost-effective and decrease dependency on oil, as concerns over America's dependence on foreign oil continue to grow. The Energy Policy Act was signed in 2005 and created the Renewable Fuel Standard which requires that ethanol and other biofuels be used in the U.S. fuel supply. The Energy Independence and Security of 2007 dedicated the United States to increasing the supply of alternative fuel sources and reducing the country's overall use of oil. America committed to increasing the use of biofuel to 36 billion gallons by 2022 and to increase the nation's fuel economy standard to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The increased support by the federal government has contributed to the growing presence of renewable energy, and according to U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States has made successful strides in decreasing its dependence on foreign oil since peaking in 2005.

BIOFUELS:

Nebraska is currently ranked second in the U.S. for ethanol production. Biomass power is generated from plants and plant-derived materials and is an avenue that has the potential to connect multiple sectors in the Grand Island area. The agriculture sector supplies much of the materials needed to create biofuels, which is then passed on to the trucks that require the end product, fuel ethanol, to transport products. Additionally, the byproduct from ethanol production is distillers grain, which is used for livestock feed. The biofuel sector does both "fuel and feed." These products, combined with the agriculture sector and the area's connection nationally through its many transportation options, set up Grand Island with a competitive advantage over many places in the nation.

There are a few ethanol producers located near Grand Island that have potential to expand, and new opportunities may present themselves as the state invests economic development resources in the promotion of alternative energy production and adoption. Aventine Renewable Energy Inc. is a producer of ethanol and has a location in Aurora in Hamilton County, which is part of the Grand Island metropolitan area. Just recently, in May 2014, Aventine announced that it expected to hire 18 more employees in the next two months. Additionally, they reported that they had spent $10.6 million in Aurora's local economy and that their annual payroll was $4.6 million. BioFuel Energy is an ethanol producer with a facility in Wood River, Nebraska. In late May 2014, it announced its first railcar shipment of ethanol produced at its facility. Nebraska's Community Colleges began offering programs in renewable energy in recent years. Central Community College developed a proposal in 2008 to start offering a Renewable Energy Technology program to support the state's efforts related to biofuels, specifically ethanol production. However, Market Street can find no evidence that this program was approved and it is not currently listed among the college's program offerings. The Mechatronics program includes courses on electronics, pumps and mechanical systems, and hydraulics, preparing students to work on the installation, maintenance, and repair of equipment used in wind and solar energy facilities, as well as many other manufacturing and installation facilities. More specialized programs for biofuels production could help nurture the sector.

WIND:

Nebraska is ranked fourth in the nation for potential wind power generation. Between 1999 and 2013 Nebraska's megawatts (MW) of installed wind power capacity increased from 3 to 459 MW. According to the Nebraska Wind Energy and Wildlife Project at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, there is enough electricity generated by wind currently in Nebraska to power around 245,000 homes. Further, it's estimated that wind power in Nebraska will surpass 1,000 MWs by the end of 2015. Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, and Colorado have already reached that mark. Hall County has yet to enter this market. However, there are a few wind energy generation facilities in nearby counties. As of May 2014, there were 13 operating wind farms and two currently under construction or being planned in the state.

Several counties in Nebraska have zoning regulations and ordinances regarding wind energy facilities, including Hall County. Many of the regulations are in regards to public conservation lands and wetlands. The impact that a wind turbine could have on the Sandhill Cranes and the endangered Whooping Crane migration is an important aspect that has been taken into consideration. Grand Island is not merely on the migration path for the cranes, it is a resting stop for 80 percent of the world's population of Sandhill Cranes. However, development away from the Platte River Valley is a plausible situation if so desired, and some other wind facilities in the state are directly in the migratory path and therefore may not be particularly disruptive.

SOLAR:

The Solar Foundation, a non-profit based out of Washington D.C., recently released its 2013 National Solar Jobs Census and their research concluded that solar industry employment has grown by an 53 percent – or nearly 50,000 jobs – since 2010. Nearly half of solar establishments surveyed reported that they expected to hire employees by November 2013. Jobs are high paying – the average wage of an installer is $23.63 per hour – and offer transferable skills for persons trained in green or non-green sectors.

Grand Island enjoys around 225 days of sunshine and while percentage of sunshine that is seen yearly isn't available for Grand Island from the National Climatic Data Center, North Platte averages sunshine 67 percent of the year, while Lincoln averages 61 percent. California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Jersey are among the top solar power producing states and recently, Minnesota has made some significant strides in increasing its solar power through its adoption of a "value of solar" policy. 

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