Electrical system grant program advanced

A proposal aimed at helping a Nebraska community address its electrical system challenges advanced from general file March 31.

Sen. Julie Slama
Sen. Julie Slama

LB977, as introduced by Sterling Sen. Julie Slama, would have used federal pandemic relief funds to create a grant program, administered by the state Department of Administrative Services, to fund electrical system expansion projects.

That initial proposal, however, was deemed likely not an eligible use of such funds, Slama said.

An Appropriations Committee amendment, adopted 34-0, instead would transfer $15 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the existing Site and Building Development Fund and expand eligibility to include grants to second class cities — those with a population between 801 and 5,000 residents — that partner with public power utilities to expand electrical system capacities and enhance redundancy and resilience.

Eligible grantees would be required to secure a minimum commitment of half of a project’s total cost before state dollars would be released.

Slama said the bill was brought to assist southeast Nebraska’s second-largest town, Falls City, in addressing its substandard electrical capacity. The continuity of electric service there is “challenged,” she said, and the town has experienced numerous power outages, including during a recent high school district basketball game.

One result, Slama said, is that the town cannot engage in economic development that would bring new businesses to the community, because doing so would push the existing electrical system beyond its capacity.

“Without upgrades to our southeast Nebraska electrical infrastructure, there can be no growth,” she said.

Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman supported the bill and the amendment. Falls City has its own power plant, he said, which would be too costly for the community to upgrade without a “partnership” with the state.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to help a rural community grow and prosper,” Kolterman said.

Lawmakers advanced LB977 to select file on a 34-0 vote.

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