Proponents call it the biggest new idea in wind energy in Nebraska in decades: wind turbines dotting the hills, harnessing wind for the financial benefit of members of a local community.
A plan in front of a legislative committee would offer a sales tax exemption for community-based energy development groups – co-ops of Nebraska residents, tribal councils and even school districts could qualify.
The exemption would apply to the cost of materials used to manufacture, install, construct, repair or replace wind turbines that convert wind to usable energy.
It’s “a good investment in Nebraska’s rural communities,” said state Sen. Don Preister of Bellevue, who introduced the bill (LB648). The Legislature’s Revenue Committee held a public hearing on Thursday.
Advocates of the bill say it’s a step in the right direction for a state that ranks sixth among states for wind energy potential, yet produces less than 10 percent as much wind power as Iowa, which is ranked tenth for potential.
“We’re nowhere near our potential,” said Ken Winston, lobbyist for the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club. “We can do much better than this.”
The bill creates economic development with benefits resting in rural communities, where wind is plentiful but commerce scarce, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.
If Nebraska doesn’t act fast to keep wind power in local hands, it will find the rights snapped up by out-of-state companies, he said.
Tom Richards, a representative of the Nebraska Power Association, told senators the group supports the bill.
But the association wants the measure amended so that power agencies are also eligible for the sales tax exemption.
No one spoke in opposition to the measure on Thursday.
It also would increase tax credits for renewable energy, and the credits would be opened up to small-scale operations, such as individuals who install a wind turbine to generate electricity for their own use.
That part of the bill is nearly identical to a bill (LB444) introduced by Sen. Arnie Stuthman of Platte Center.
Preister’s bill is crafted so that the community-based projects would not be eligible for the renewable energy credits.
Robert Byrnes has an 85-foot-tall, 1,000-watt wind turbine on his 10-acre farmstead northeast of Lyons. That, along with a 4,000-watt hand-started generator, have taken Byrnes and his family off the public electric power grid.
Byrnes said he spent about $5,000 buying and installing the turbine, and plans to install another one soon.
Nebraskans are ready for expanded wind energy production, said Byrnes, who also is president of the nonprofit Nebraska Renewable Energy Association.
“They know the wind blows well here,” he said. “They know there’s energy there.”
By Anna Jo Bratton / The Associated Press
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