Nebraska bill on tax incentives for wind energy stalls

Source: By Paul Hammel, WORLD-HERALD BUREAU • Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013

LINCOLN — A bill that was expected to bring a $300 million wind farm to northeast Nebraska failed to advance from a legislative committee on Wednesday.

While the idea might get a second chance later, it blew some cold air on the idea of more tax incentives for wind energy in Nebraska, which has lagged behind neighboring states in development of wind farms.

TradeWind Energy is proposing a 118-turbine wind farm in Dixon County near Allen, but the company recently said it might abandon the project if it can’t obtain a tax exemption on purchases of turbines, towers, blades and other wind-farm equipment.

Currently, 28 states, including nearby Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, offer that sales tax break, but Nebraska does not.

That, according to advocates of wind energy, has pushed new wind farms to other states because of the higher cost of buying equipment in the Cornhusker State.

But on Wednesday, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee fell one vote short of advancing a wind tax-break bill, 4-3, with one lawmaker, Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, registered as “present but not voting.”

Pirsch, who could possibly have provided the fifth vote needed to advance it, said he needed more information from the sponsors of two wind bills before the committee, Sens. Galen Hadley of Kearney and Steve Lathrop of Omaha, before he could vote “yes” or “no.”

Three senators who voted “no” included Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a Republican who is an announced candidate for governor.

Janssen said that the state should not pick “winners and losers” in doling out tax breaks, and that he is not a fan of passing tax breaks to match other states.

“They’re basically making us play a game of chicken,” Janssen said of TradeWind’s saying it needs a tax break before it building in Nebraska.

The senator added that politics was not involved in his “no” vote. The bill that failed to advance is sponsored by Lathrop, a Democrat who is considering a run for governor in 2014.

Hadley, the Revenue Committee chairman, said that right now, Nebraska is not competitive for new wind farms and needed to pass the tax break if it wants the jobs, taxes and economic development generated by them.

While Nebraska ranks fourth among the states in potential for wind energy, it ranks lower than all neighboring states in developing it.

Natalie Peetz, a lobbyist for TradeWind, said she is not giving up yet on passage of a wind bill this year.