Exemptions for private renewable energy companies advance

Senators amended and advanced a bill April 7 to encourage private renewable energy development—especially wind energy.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm introduced an amendment to LB824 on select file, adopted 32-8, that would exempt private renewable energy generation facilities from certain laws that currently regulate facilities generating electricity.

Haar said Nebraska currently is third in the nation in terms of wind energy potential but ranks only 23rd in development. He said Nebraska’s current regulations make it less welcoming for private wind energy developers than Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and other states.

Omaha Sen. John McCollister, the bill sponsor, spoke in support of the amendment, saying that more private development could lead to billions of dollars in capital investment, high-paying jobs and new property tax revenue in rural Nebraska.

“The regulations are killing Nebraska when it comes to our public utilities and wind development,” he said.

Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner spoke against the bill. He said wind energy development is viable now only because of federal production tax credits.

“I will always be opposed to wind energy,” he said. “Why? From a simple business standpoint—it will not pay for itself.”

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson opposed Haar’s amendment, saying it would remove current safeguards designed to protect public utilities and ratepayers.

He introduced an amendment that would reinstate provisions the amendment removed, which required the Nebraska Power Review Board to determine whether a new electric generation facility would create stranded assets. As more electricity from wind energy is added to the grid, Friesen said, demand for electricity from coal-fired plants will decrease, reducing their revenue and forcing them to increase rates to cover their operating expenses.

The amendment failed on a 12-24 vote.

Friesen also introduced an amendment that would include electrical generation facilities that use natural gas in the exemption. He said electrical generation using natural gas is less expensive and more consistent than wind energy, which Friesen said would create instability in the state’s power grid.

The amendment failed on an 11-22 vote.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango filed a motion to recommit the bill to committee, saying that wind energy is not reliable enough for the state’s public power needs.

“The reliability of renewables just is not there yet,” he said, “and forcing more and more renewables onto the market and costing us jobs in our current coal and nuclear power generation is not right.”

The motion failed on a 12-21 vote.

Senators voted 34-3 to adopt a McCollister amendment appropriating $19,000 in fiscal year 2016-17 and again in FY2017-18 to the Nebraska Power Review Board, which had been addressed in a committee amendment on general file. It added to the bill provisions from LB914, introduced by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala.

These would increase from $60 to $250 per day the compensation for the Nebraska Power Review Board member who represents the state on the Southwest Power Pool’s regional state committee.

After four hours of debate, McCollister filed a motion to invoke cloture, or cease debate and vote on the bill. The motion succeeded on a vote of 34-8. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Lawmakers then advanced the bill to final reading on a voice vote.

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