State lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a measure to encourage wind farms in Nebraska.
The bill would permit public power districts to work with private developers and landowners to build electricity-generating wind turbines.
All 49 lawmakers voted in favor of Legislative Bill 629, which now goes to Gov. Dave Heineman for his signature.
Under the plan, developers and private equity firms would work with rural Nebraskans to build wind farms and collect federal incentives for alternative energy production.
When the incentives expire after 10 years, the Nebraskans would attain full ownership of the projects.
Ron Asche, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Public Power District, said that within 30 to 60 days, his utility would propose policies for working with wind farm developers and transmission requirements.
Asche said NPPD has received about six unsolicited proposals from wind farm developers in the past year.
Nebraska lags behind most neighboring states in developing wind energy. That’s because public power utilities do not qualify for a lucrative federal tax credit to encourage wind power.
The state’s sparse population also means Nebraska doesn’t have the network of transmission lines needed to carry electricity from wind farms to populated areas.
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said the bill protects the state’s tradition of public power while creating a new tool for rural economic development.
The measure authorizes the state’s four major electrical wholesalers – NPPD, the Omaha Public Power District, Lincoln Electric System and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Inc. – to purchase power from the community-based partnerships.
A key provision limits the public utilities’ powers of eminent domain, so they cannot take over community-based wind farms.
Hansen said that provision would give community-based projects an advantage over those developed by other private investors, who still could be vulnerable to takeover via eminent domain.
OPPD has no immediate plans to undertake a wind project, said spokesman Jeff Hanson, saying the best winds for electricity generation “unfortunately, are not anywhere in our area.”
By Leslie Reed
15 May 2007
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