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Wind energy tax break finds opposition, awaits deciding committee vote

LINCOLN – A proposal to provide new tax breaks for wind energy development in Nebraska ran into some politically tinged opposition Monday.

Members of the State Legislature’s Revenue Committee, in an executive session, discussed Monday whether to advance a bill that would give wind developers a tax exemption on purchases of turbines, towers and other wind farm equipment. It would match tax breaks offered by neighboring states.

The plan was to advance an amended version of Legislative Bill 104 so that State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, a Democrat who is considering whether to run for governor, could make it his personal priority bill. That would guarantee a debate on the topic this year.

But that drew objections from a couple of senators on the committee, including Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, who has already announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.

Janssen said he didn’t think the bill was necessary, adding that it looked like a “legislative trick” to allow Lathrop to carry the tax break in his LB 104.

A move to gut Lathrop’s wind-energy bill, replace it with wording from another, similar wind-energy bill introduced by Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley, and then advance the measure, hit a snag.

The Revenue Committee voted 4-2-1 to amend the bill, with Janssen and North Platte Sen. Tom Hansen voted “no” and Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy voted “present but not voting.” That meant the bill was one vote short of the five votes needed to advance for debate by the full Legislature.

But that fifth vote arrived later Monday when a lawmaker who was absent for the noon-hour executive session arrived at the Capitol. Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, who cast the fifth vote, had been delayed in returning to Nebraska from a weekend trip.

The committee is expected to vote Wednesday on advancement of the wind bill.

Wind energy advocates have said that Kansas and Oklahoma are out-competing Nebraska for new wind farms because they, unlike Nebraska, offer sales tax exemptions on turbines and other equipment.

Hadley, the Revenue Committee chairman, said Monday that the state needs to pass something this year because a major federal incentive, a production tax credit, is set to expire at the end of 2013.