LINCOLN – A state senator pulled the plug Tuesday on a bill to encourage more renewable energy development in Nebraska.
Under current law, the state’s public power utilities must consider cost and reliability when designing projects. The bill sponsored by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm would have expanded the list of considerations to include benefits such as jobs and tax revenue as well as costs related to water and fuel usage.
Representatives of the state’s major power districts lobbied against the bill, saying the language was vague and could have made approval of new projects more complex and vulnerable to legal challenge.
After it became clear that Legislative Bill 965 lacked the 25 votes needed to advance to the second round, Haar made a motion to kill it for the session. Before he did that, though, he spent roughly two hours discussing the proposal.
Haar argued that when the true costs and benefits of a power project are factored in, wind energy can compete with electricity generated by coal plants. Wind farms also generate substantial economic benefits in the communities where they are built.
Although Nebraska has the only public electric power system in the country, the state’s average cost of energy has climbed in recent years. Nebraska’s rates have exceeded those in Iowa, where much more wind power is generated.
Haar said the Legislature needs to update policy that was set in the 1960s. “This is not a mandate,” he said. “It doesn’t say you have to get rid of your coal, you have to use wind.”
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, the leading opponent of the bill, said the state’s public utilities have significantly increased the percentage of power they obtain from wind in recent years.
But Haar’s bill could have forced approval of more expensive wind farms over cheaper fossil fuel options, which could translate to higher bills for ratepayers, Smith added.
“I want renewables. I want all-the-above energy,” he said. “We need to do it in a thoughtful way to not have higher electric rates.”
Haar said he plans to introduce a similar bill next session.
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