February 17, 2018
Nebraska, Opinions

Allowing private businesses to use eminent domain is immoral

By Sen. Tom Brewer | The North Platte Telegraph | February 17, 2018 | www.nptelegraph.com

Last week I introduced LB 752 at its hearing. This bill repeals a section of the law I believe is immoral.

Nebraska Statute 70-1014.02 (5) says: “Only a consumer-owned electric supplier operating in the State of Nebraska may exercise eminent domain authority to acquire the land rights necessary for the construction of transmission lines and related facilities. The exercise of eminent domain to provide needed transmission lines and related facilities for a privately developed renewable energy generation facility is a public use.”

Read that last sentence and let that soak in. How can something that is defined in the law as a “private” thing be called a “public” thing in the same sentence?

Wind energy projects are private business ventures. They are not being built by or for any agency of government. They are not for the public use. They are not serving a “public necessity.” We have a surplus of electrical generation in Nebraska. They are not built because we need the electricity. They are built for a handful of investors and landowners to make money. Period. Although I suppose they are pretty good for generating campaign donations.

Imagine your neighbor invites a wind energy developer onto his property. They build a massive industrial wind energy project with scores of huge towers right next door. To get the power they manage to generate only 40 percent of the time out to the electrical grid, they need to build an “interconnect” or “feeder” line. If you refuse to grant them a voluntary easement to build a power line across your ground, they simply go to the law I just quoted and forcibly take your land for this private business.

I understand why a division of state government, like the Department of Roads, for example, needs to have the power of eminent domain. A private business interest should not have this same power.

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha is a member of the Judiciary Committee that heard this bill last week. Unfortunately, he is opposed to my bill and he spoke against it during the hearing. I don’t understand his opposition. This issue is so crystal clear to me. I urge readers so inclined to contact Sen. Krist and the other members of the Judiciary Committee and politely suggest they support LB 752.

The Cherry County Board met last week and voted 2-1 to reject the wind energy ordinance. The volunteers of the nine-member planning and zoning board worked on this for over a year. This ordinance set good parameters for wind energy development in the county. Tanya Storer was the only vote to keep the ordinance. She did a good job of chairing the meeting and listening to passionate testimony from nearly 50 citizens. That process is “local control.” This is a huge part of how we do government in Nebraska. I’m sad Cherry County is back to square one with this issue. It may take another election to get it done, but I am confident the citizens of the county will eventually get a solution to this important issue.

LB 1054, which gives people affected by wind energy projects a voice in the process, is stuck in the Natural Resources Committee. Four senators are for it, and four senators are against it. I need five “yes” votes to advance this bill out of committee to General File. I am working on an amendment to try to get the bill out of committee. If this doesn’t swing the one vote I need, there are other options to get this bill to the floor. It’s my priority bill. I will use every tool in the toolbox to move it forward.

Back in the 1930s when George Norris was arguing in favor of changing Nebraska’s government to the unicameral we have now, he said the people would serve as Nebraska’s second house of government. He said there were protections in the new system where the people would serve as a check and balance upon the possible abuse of power. With each passing day, I have trouble seeing these protections. A private business interest that enjoys unchecked political power to the point they can steamroll the citizens no matter what they do is not what George Norris had in mind. I think it’s time we ask whether our unicameral system is serving all Nebraskans.

Contact Sen. Tom Brewer: tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. or 402-471-2628.

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2018/02/17/allowing-private-businesses-to-use-eminent-domain-is-immoral/