Nebraska lawmakers to debate incentives for wind energy

The idea of expanding wind power remains popular among Nebraska lawmakers, but concerns about cost and preserving the strength of the state’s public power system could limit any new wind-power incentives.
In a survey, many senators appeared reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize the state’s relatively low electricity rates and some expressed doubts about whether Nebraska’s electricity grid is ready to deliver wind power from rural areas, where it would be generated, to urban areas, where the demand is higher.
Plus, the Legislature did approve a new tax break for wind-power projects just last year.
In a pre-session survey of state senators and senators-elect by The Associated Press, 17 of the 49 total said they favored additional incentives for wind power. Ten said they did not, seven were unsure, and 15 senators did not respond to the survey.
There is little disagreement about the potential for wind power in the state. The American Wind Energy Association says Nebraska has the sixth-highest potential for wind energy of any state in the nation.
But even the senators who say they think incentives are a good idea have different ideas about what kind of incentives would be good.
Nebraska is the only state where all electric customers are served by publicly owned utilities. That has helped limit energy costs in Nebraska, but it’s also limited wind-power development because public utilities couldn’t collect federal tax incentives. Wind power costs more than other options, and public utilities are required to deliver the cheapest power possible.
Lawmakers have approved several measures in the past to encourage wind-power development, including a 2007 law that allows community-based groups to invest in wind farms and sell power to public utilities has contributed to some recent wind-energy development in the state.
And last year, lawmakers passed a bill to encourage wind-power development by creating a sales-tax exemption for new community-based projects begun before the end of 2011. All equipment and property used in those projects would not be subject to sales tax.
The 2010 legislative session begins Wednesday.


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