Natural Resources

Hydrogen hub funding, design-build authorization advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval April 11 to a bill intended to support Nebraska’s efforts to be selected as a regional clean hydrogen hub by the U.S Department of Energy.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman
Sen. Bruce Bostelman

Lawmakers passed a measure last year creating a work group with the purpose of drafting a proposal seeking Nebraska’s designation as one of the six to 10 regional hubs, which are intended to accelerate the use of hydrogen as a clean energy source.

Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, sponsor of LB565, said the work group partnered with Iowa and Missouri to submit an initial application for the program, called H2Hubs. Of 79 applications submitted, he said, Nebraska’s was one of 33 selected for the next stage of the process.

“The H2Hubs will be a central driver in helping communities across the country benefit from clean energy investments, good-paying jobs and improved energy security,” Bostelman said.

LB565 states legislative intent to appropriate $250,000 in state general funds in fiscal years 2023-24 and 2024-25 to the state Department of Economic Development for the purpose of providing grants to any public power district that serves a majority of Nebraska counties.

Bostelman said Nebraska Public Power District, which leads the work group, will use the funds for additional engineering and modeling needed to submit a full application to the Department of Energy.

If selected, Bostelman said, Nebraska and its partner states could receive approximately $1 billion in federal matching funds for projects that would secure regional access to fertilizer production, create new markets for hydrogen-based biofuels and give Nebraska’s transportation industry and electric utilities an opportunity to diversify their fuel sources.

A Natural Resources Committee amendment would have added the provisions of three other bills heard by the committee this session, all sponsored by Bostelman.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha made a motion to divide the question and consider each bill contained within the committee amendment separately. The motion was successful.

Lawmakers voted 35-0 to adopt the component of the divided amendment containing the provisions of LB565.

The component containing the provisions of LB567, adopted 31-2, would repeal a provision in current law that prohibits individuals in certain high-level managerial positions at a public power district from serving as a member of any public power district’s board of directors.

Senators voted 35-0 to adopt the component containing the amended provisions of LB568. They would require the state Department of Economic Development to create a work group to determine the workforce training needs of the nuclear and hydrogen industries.

The proposal would require the department to establish procedures and criteria for awarding grants to community colleges and state colleges that implement courses designed to alleviate the workforce training needs of those industries. The grants could be used for equipment, curriculum, programming or marketing.

It also would require the state treasurer to transfer $200,000 in state general funds to a new fund used to provide per diems and travel and lodging reimbursement to certain work group members.

Finally, lawmakers voted 33-0 to adopt the component of the divided amendment containing the amended provisions of LB723, introduced by Bostelman at the request of Gov. Jim Pillen.

The measure would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to use public-private partnerships and design-build, progressive design-build and construction manager-general contractor project methods when contracting for public surface water or groundwater-related infrastructure projects.

Under the proposal, the department would develop guidelines for entering into such contracts, including the preparation and content of requests for proposals and procedures and standards for evaluating them.

The department also would be required to pay a stipend in an amount determined at its discretion to qualified design builders that submit proposals but are not selected — giving the department ownership of the intellectual property contained in those proposals.

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh said the measure would allow the department to use alternative methods for building a proposed canal to divert South Platte River water from Colorado to Nebraska under a 1923 interstate compact.

The Legislature authorized the department last session to develop, construct, manage and operate the canal and its associated reservoirs, called the Perkins County Canal Project, under the terms of the compact.

Cavanaugh said he remains skeptical of the project but that he voted to advance the proposal from committee to ensure that the department could complete the canal as efficiently as possible.

Sen. Mike Jacobson of North Platte also supported the proposal, saying design-build projects are more cost effective and can be completed more quickly than projects that use traditional contracting methods.

Following adoption of the amendments, senators voted 35-0 to advance LB565 to select file.

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