Nebraska lawmakers look again at wind energy

Posted: Monday, October 28, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lawmakers are once again looking for ways to attract wind-energy producers to Nebraska.

At least seven state lawmakers and Gov. Dave Heineman will speak next month at the annual Nebraska Wind Conference in Lincoln. The conference helps generate new ideas based on what has worked in other states, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union and an event organizer.

Nebraska is the nation’s third-windiest state, but ranks 26th in the energy it could now produce, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Nebraska lags behind its neighboring states: Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas.

Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha said he’s considering wind-energy legislation next year that would provide a tax credit to wind farms, similar to one offered by the federal government and other states.

“The state still has a considerable way to go to become a truly wind-friendly state,” Mello said. “I’m trying to work now to see what can be done with my existing bill to help make Nebraska more competitive.”

In July, developers announced that they were adding two new wind farms in Oklahoma to provide a combined 250 megawatts to Lincoln Electric Service in Nebraska and a utility in Arkansas. LES said the wind farm in Oklahoma would bring lower-cost power to the company’s customers, but the decision frustrated wind-energy proponents, who argued that Nebraska should develop more facilities itself.

Still, Hansen said the state has seen new commitments to wind power. The Nebraska Public Power District has agreed to buy power from a 75-megawatt project in Gage and Jefferson counties. In September, the district committed to buy from an energy farm near Broken Bow.

Earlier this month, the Omaha Public Power District said it would buy 400 megawatts of power from a wind farm being built near O’Neill, in northeast Nebraska. The utility’s board voted to approve a 20-year contract for the electricity, which is enough to supply power to 118,000 customers. The utility currently serves about 350,000 customers in and around Omaha.

Lawmakers approved a bill last year that extended new sales-tax exemptions to wind-energy companies, and shelved another bill that would have made it easier for firms to qualify through an existing state program.

Hansen said the senators will talk about wind- and solar-energy bills in the Legislature, and how to advance both industries. The conference is expected to draw three gubernatorial candidates: Republican state Sen. Tom Carlson, Democratic state Sen. Annette Dubas and former University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook, a Democrat.

It also will include representatives from public power districts, the University of Nebraska, the wind-production industry and rural electric providers.

“You’ve got the best and the brightest folks together to figure out what’s going on, and who’s ahead of us,” Hansen said. “Whose approaches have worked or not worked? There are some things we’ve done fairly well, but it’s an ongoing learning process.”