Wind power tax breaks sail ahead despite buffeting

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April 24, 2013 - 5:42pm

Despite some buffeting, proposed tax breaks for wind energy moved ahead in the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday.

The proposal would make wind energy projects eligible for tax breaks under the Nebraska Advantage program. It would also apply to solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and other forms of alternative energy production. But most of the discussion centered on how to attract wind power projects.

Sponsoring Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha listed what he said would be some of the benefits of a 200 megawatt project: $300 million of investment, lease payments to landowners on the land for turbines averaging $10,000 to $15,000 for 40 years, 200 construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs, with accompanying income taxes, as well as increased property tax payments to local communities.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, who originally introduced the concept amended into Lathrop’s bill, said it needs to be passed now. He said a federal wind energy tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, and companies are deciding where to build wind farms now.

Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk also supported the proposal. "This isn’t about investors," he said. "This is about Nebraskans. It’s about providing employment and income for rural Nebraska…I don’t care who owns them. Nebraskans are going to build them. They’re going to maintain them," he said.

But Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha tried to get the bill sent back to committee, which could effectively kill it for this year. Chambers is angry that the Revenue Committee, chaired by Hadley, has not advanced his proposal to repeal permission for cities to increase sales taxes. He also challenged Scheer’s argument. "It is about investors. It’s all about investors. Without investors, this is nothing. It is about investors. Why do we have to make it something other that what it is? Because maybe there are some problems with it standing on its own merits."

And Sen. Beau McCoy suggested that while the bill is a priority, it could wait. "I just question whether or not it’s a priority this session that has to be done, in light of all the other things that are before us. I think this falls under the guise of some of the other pieces of legislation that are going to sit…until we get done with the tax study," he said.

Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, has previously criticized the Revenue Committee for advancing tax breaks for wind power while rejecting his own proposals to abolish or reduce income taxes. Lathrop, whose name is on the bill, is a registered Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature and is thinking of running for governor next year.

Despite the objections raised, senators rejected Chambers attempt to send the bill back to committee on a vote of 38-3. They then gave the bill first round approval on a 30-0 vote.

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