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Nebraska Legislature hears wind energy bill

Posted at 11:55 AM, Feb 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-01 19:21:00-05

Senator Tom Brewer proposed a bill (LB 1054) to amend current law in order to add language that accomplishes two things.

First, it would require wind energy projects in Nebraska to make application to and seek the approval of the Power Review Board. Second, it would require the Power Review Board to consider public comment when determining their statutory responsibility  to assess whether the project "will serve the public convenience and necessity".

Two years ago, wind companies became exempt from going in front of the Power Review Board to start a project with the goal of reducing regulations. This bill would get rid of that exemption. 

"It's not that we are trying to stop wind energy, what we're trying to do is make is responsible," said Brewer. 

Landowners along with Brewer claim local concerns are not being addressed because often county board members and officials have a conflict of interest since some are investors in wind projects. 

"How can they have an unbiased and objective opinion and look out for everyone's private property rights, particularly the non-participating land owners," said Brewer. 

On Thursday many Sand Hills landowner gave passionate testimony supporting Brewer's bill. 

"We the rural people of Nebraska need our power review board to hold large wind companies accountable," said Sand Hills landowner Melanie Coffman. 

However wind companies just as BHE Wind argue the Power Review Board doesn't take public comments and said adding more regulations will make companies think twice before investing in the state. 

"With such a review and in the future would undercut LB's 824 removal of this competitive barrier and would place the state in a competitive disadvantage," said President of BHE Wind, Thomas Budler. 

With the Federal tax credit ending in 2020, Budler said time is of the essence, "This means investment decisions must be made today."

The Nebraska Farmers Union said wind energy helps them when the agriculture economy is down.

"When you look at wind and the short time we've been doing that we have about 5.3 million new income," said President of the Nebraska Farmers Union John Hansen. 

Sen. Brewer also has two other bills addressing wind energy. One would place a two-year moratorium on commercial wind energy development in the Sand Hills, and charges the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to form a task force and conduct a study analysis the impact of commercial wind energy development in the Sand Hills. 
Another bill would impose a study of industrial development of wind energy projects. 

This is Sen. Brewer's priority bill and it could take weeks before the committee votes on whether all 49 senators will be able to discuss this bill.