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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wind energy tax incentive bill advances

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Nebraskans are keenly aware of a term called "wind chill" or the wind chill factor. It is the perceived decrease in air temperature felt by the body on exposed skin due to the flow of cold air. Said temperatures are always lower than the air temperature where the formula is valid. That would be just about everywhere. Likewise, the "heat index" is used to describe an apparent temperature higher than the air temperature.

The wind chill factor coming from the office of lame-duck Gov. Dave Heineman has turned up the heat index on the Legislature's Revenue Committee and, most recently, on the 30 senators who gave first-round approval to a measure aimed at increasing the number of wind turbines being built in Nebraska.

The bill, LB104, offered by Omaha Democrat Steve Lathrop, a potential candidate for the post Heinemann will vacate in a couple years, would provide state tax incentives for companies that create sources of renewable energy. Lathrop said Nebraska is the fourth largest producer of wind energy but lacks economic incentives for companies to invest in the state. He said the state has wind energy potential and is facing a time-sensitive opportunity that can significantly grow Nebraska's economy.

His bill was amended by a Revenue Committee proposal, adopted 27-0, that essentially replaced the bill with provisions of LB501, a bill originally introduced by Senator Galen Hadley of Kearney. As amended, the bill would expand the definition of qualified business to include renewable energy producers in the existing incentive tiers. It also would define sources of renewable energy to include wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass and transmutation of elements.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha said the discontinuation of federal production tax credits at the end of 2013 adds a sense of urgency. He noted that developers have to get projects started by the end of the year to get tax credits. Nordquist and Senator Jim Scheer of Norfolk urged colleagues to advance the bill to help get the developments started.

Nebraska has 11 operating so-called wind farms, ranging from two turbines built by the Lincoln Electric System north of the Capital City in 1998, to the 54 operating near Petersburg in Boone County. Eight projects are on the books, including 120 turbines planned near Elgin by the end of 2014 and a massive project -- 1,000 wind turbines __ planned for Banner County in Nebraska's Panhandle.

Scheer answered critics of the proposal by saying he doesn't care who owns the companies. "Nebraskans are going to build and maintain them. This is about providing employment and income for rural Nebraska."

Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy -- one of the senators who carried a massive tax break bill that the Governor later dropped early on in the session -- opposed the bill, saying the timing is not right for new incentives. He said he opposed the bill in committee as well because there are a lot of priorities that have to be made this session.

In July 2010, Heineman wrote that wind energy has a bright future in Nebraska. These developments and future ones reflect Nebraska's commitment to clean energy, energy independence, rural economic development and the Good Life for all Nebraskans. In October 2012 he went on record thanking Edison Mission Energy for developing and operating its third wind energy project in Nebraska. He said that the company's continued investment in our state and our natural resource enhances Nebraska's portfolio of providing renewable energy sources.

Governors are certainly allowed to change their minds. Former Governor Bob Kerrey used to change his mind and stand on major proposals almost daily. So, we'll give Heineman a pass for seeing things differently seven months later. But one has to wonder what's blowing in the wind this time. Is it more than just a matter of "priorities?"

Could it have something to do with the governor not getting his way on his sweeping tax proposals in January? Or is it just more hot air, the kind that could probably turn a few turbine propellers and light a few more Nebraska homes economically and efficiently. Let's drop the grudges and illuminate the future.

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J.L. Schmidt
Capitol View
Nebraska Press Association