Legislature advances competing wind proposal

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April 29, 2013 - 5:27pm

Nebraska lawmakers wrangled Monday over the best way to attract more wind power projects to the state.

Last week, senators advanced a bill by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop designed to attract large wind projects by exempting developers from sales taxes under the Nebraska Advantage tax program. Monday, they considered another bill, sponsored by Sen. Health Mello of Omaha, geared toward smaller projects.

Mello’s bill would require 25 percent of the money paid for power go to Nebraska owners or local communities. It would cost the state an estimated $6.7 million in sales taxes that would not be collected over the next two years.

Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz said that cost would be worthwhile. Referring to criticism that it cost a lot of money and only provided a few jobs, Schilz said that in places like Banner county, Kimball, or Bridgeport, "eight or nine jobs is a great economic development opportunity."

The wind bill advanced last week, aimed at larger projects, would cost an estimated $7.8 million in foregone revenue. Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said tax incentive programs tend to favor larger businesses. "When you need a certain amount of money in the pot, and the big shots don’t put the money there, it’s got to come from somewhere. And these small businesses upon which so much reliance is placed have to put into that pot and make up for the money that their big competitors are not putting into the pot," Chambers said.

With a limited amount of money available for tax exemptions or spending programs, it’s considered unlikely both wind bills will pass. Chambers argued the bills should be combined. Mello said he would meet with Lathrop and wind power advocates to try to do that.

His bill got first round approval on a vote of 33-0.

In other action Monday, lawmakers gave second round approval to a proposal by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege to study and recommend water projects. Carlson agreed to reduce the cost of the study from $3 million to $1 million. The study would be completed by the end of this year, with legislation to accomplish the recommended projects to be introduced next year.

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