Nebraska lawmakers OK proposals to plan for climate change, boost wind energy

Source: By ZACH PLUHACEK, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2016

Environmentalists notched a pair of victories in the Nebraska Legislature last week, with measures aimed at boosting wind energy development and preparing the state for the effects of climate change.

More people are beginning to acknowledge climate change exists, said Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, a longtime champion of environmental issues.

“I think that’s progress,” he said.

Haar’s proposal establishing a special panel of lawmakers to examine climate change was adopted on a 28-3 vote. Because the resolution doesn’t carry the weight of law, it does not require approval from Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The wind energy bill sponsored by Omaha Sen. John McCollister overcame a filibuster for the second time to pass on a 34-10 vote, and now awaits the governor’s OK.

Both measures faced some opposition.

Not everyone believes in climate change, said Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, likening the phenomenon — which is backed by a majority of scientific community — to the “sky falling.”

“We’ve studied this thing to death,” Bloomfield said. “Studied it back and forth.”

Opponents of McCollister’s bill argued it will give preferential treatment to wind over other power sources and prop up an industry that survives only because of government assistance.

The bill (LB824) exempts private wind energy developers from having to apply with the Nebraska Power Review Board, which regulates the state’s publicly owned utility industry.

Many chose to support the change for economic reasons, not because of an environmental agenda.

They said the measure eliminates an unnecessary impediment to wind energy developments, allowing Nebraska to become more competitive in the regional power market and potentially reducing energy costs and luring green-minded businesses to the state.

Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse said his views on wind energy have “morphed” during his time in the Legislature.

He used to oppose it; now he believes there is a business case to support it.

“Our customers are demanding a certain mix of renewables, and we have to recognize that,” Watermeier said.

Wind producers are expected to act fast if they are interested in building in Nebraska: Federal production tax credits will begin to shrink for projects that aren’t started this year.

Haar said it’s too early to tell how many wind developments the state might see with passage of McCollister’s bill.

“We’ve opened the doors now,” he said.

Haar’s climate change resolution (LR455) acknowledges the potential for dramatic effects on Nebraska’s water resources, ecosystems, farming and ranching operations and urban areas.

Legislative leaders, including five committee chairpersons, are tasked with crafting a climate plan framework to address those effects. The findings are due before the Legislature reconvenes next year.

Haar said he expects to co-chair the panel along with Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill.