Nebraska wind energy bill compromise reached

Source: By DON WALTON | LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR • Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2016

A negotiated proposal to spur private development of wind energy in Nebraska was presented to the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday with the Nebraska Public Power District on board.

The measure will be amended by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha to meet concerns expressed by NPPD that protect its power transmission authority and interests.

“We were initially opposed, but we found common ground,” NPPD vice president Tom Kent told the committee. NPPD’s transmission interests “will be maintained,” he said.

McCollister said the bill (LB824) will be “a big boost to rural communities” in terms of providing property tax relief and spurring economic development.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” he said.

The bill essentially would deregulate development of private wind energy, McCollister said, “removing barriers that discourage significant investment in Nebraska.”

Opposition to the proposal was expressed by a number of opponents who pointed to the possible economic risks of deregulation and quality-of-life issues for Nebraskans who live close to the wind turbines.

Some opponents suggested that ratepayers may be asked to bear the cost of increased transmission needs.

Time is critical for Nebraska to spur wind energy development because a federal production tax credit has just been extended for five more years, the committee was told.

“Nebraska has missed out on opportunities” that neighboring states like Iowa already have taken advantage of in terms of wind energy development, Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm said.

“It’s time for us to let go now of our fear of change,” he said.

Regulatory barriers have stood in the way, Thomas Budler, president of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s Wind division, said. A requirement that the developer negotiate a power purchase agreement in advance of approval has been especially burdensome, he said.

“Coal has the advantage today,” he said, but “a carbon-constrained environment” may mark the future.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said renewable energy — both wind and solar — opens the possibility of “a new tax base” in rural Nebraska.

Thedford cattle rancher Dave Hamilton told the committee that wind energy investment in rural areas points directly to property tax relief.