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Nebraska Utilizes a Supplemental Environmental Program to Fund Wind for Schools Turbines: A Wind Powering America Success Story

April 10, 2012

The Nebraska Wind for Schools project team has 24 turbine installations in various stages of development. Twelve of these installations were funded through grant funds from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality's Supplemental Environmental Program (SEP). The SEP was designed as a mechanism to provide entities that fail to comply with environmental laws with an alternative to paying fines for noncompliance. Instead of paying the entire fine amount, the entity can choose to fund environmentally friendly projects. The Nebraska Attorney General's Office enforces the program.

As a result of a collaborative effort between the Nebraska Wind for Schools team and the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, the team secured $185,162 in grant awards to fund turbine installations in the state.

According to Nebraska Wind for Schools facilitator Dan McGuire, "It's a tremendous boost to our Wind for Schools program."

The good news is that this financing method is accessible to any school interested in installing a school turbine, either through other similar state-based SEP programs or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA's) SEP.

McGuire said that the Nebraska SEP provides funding that allows the Wind for Schools initiative to achieve its goal of bringing wind energy to the classroom, and the turbine installations complement the SEP's goals.

"The program addresses pollution violations and negative environmental impacts," McGuire said. "Given that wind energy and renewable energy are such positives for the environment, combining them with the mission of the SEP funds seems to be a logical fit."

According to McGuire, the Nebraska team began the process of obtaining state SEP funds in 2010 after the group had already installed multiple turbines. These successful school wind projects attracted interest from government agencies, including the Nebraska Attorney General's Office. After an initial discussion about utilizing Nebraska SEP funds for future installations, the Wind for Schools team provided the names of interested schools to the Attorney General's Office. Each school was required to submit an application, and the Nebraska Wind for Schools team provided guidance to the schools during this period.

"The funding became available when other sources were not available or easy to obtain, and they could be processed a little quicker than other funding sources," McGuire said.

Larry Flowers, deputy director of distributed and community wind at the American Wind Energy Association, believes that although the EPA's SEP funds can be utilized for Wind for Schools projects across the country, some challenges must be overcome to access the funds.

"The challenge is three-fold," Flowers said. "The first is actually meeting with the state enforcement teams to talk about the opportunity of applying SEP funds to Wind for Schools projects. The second challenge is that some states apply a stricter interpretation of the rules. All states have a desire to use SEP funds in the impacted area, but each state has a certain amount of flexibility in how to apply these rules. The third challenge is the financial status of individual states. In some states there is a strong desire to put the fines into the state treasury rather than applying them to SEP awards. Again, that will vary from state to state and year to year."

An additional variable that Flowers believes must be considered is the number of violations within a given state. A state with significant industrial and manufacturing activities may have access to greater SEP funds.

The Idaho and Colorado Wind for Schools teams used SEP funding to support wind project development, which indicates that this funding option could be used more widely. Flowers said that representatives in states interested in Wind for Schools projects should contact their respective SEP program coordinators and environmental attorneys to open the dialogue and pursue this application.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Powering America initiative provides funding and guidance for the Wind for Schools project, which works to raise awareness in rural America about the benefits of wind energy while increasing the wind knowledge base of future leaders of our communities, states, and nation. The project is currently supported in 11 states (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia). More information about the Wind for Schools project and SEP funding is available.

—Julie Jones