McCOOK, Neb. -- Legislation attempting to remove restrictions placed on the development of wind energy in Nebraska appears to be stalled in committee, although an effort is underway to circumvent the usual path and advance the bill to a floor debate.
The bill, LB824, intends to exempt privately developed renewable energy facilities from regulation. It received the Natural Resources Committee priority designation in February but is now stuck in committee on a 4-4 vote, according to District 44 State Sen. Dan Hughes who is also a committee member.
During this morning's legislative conference call, Sen. Hughes said he was opposed to advancing the bill out of committee. He believed there would be an effort to pull it by supporting legislators which would require 25 votes. He said it should be an interesting situation to watch and, as the committee's priority bill, it would get heard on the floor should it advance.
The legislation would remove all restrictions on developing wind energy in Nebraska, according to Hughes, who worries it would ultimately cause an increase in power rates.
Nebraska is part of the Southwest Power Pool which is regulated to ensure the system is charged at a certain load, he explained. The system benefits from excess power generation by selling it on the open market for a profit and in turn, reducing the rates paid by consumers.
Hughes said it was important to realize wind energy systems have to also provide a backup power for when the wind isn't blowing. Coal fire plants end up sitting idle when the wind is blowing and then ramp up when it dies down.
"If we currently have excess power generation I see no reason to build," said Hughes, adding the only reason for the recent push stemmed from an extension approved for federal tax credits.
"I don't think long term it's in the best interest of the consumer," he said.
Chamber member Larry Eisenmenger asked about the risk of Nebraska's coal-fired plants being shut down by federal regulation in the coming years, adding it could be a benefit to have wind-energy infrastructure already in place.
Sen. Hughes indicated the federal clean energy initiative which threatened coal-fired plants was on-hold after enough states filed injunctions to block it.
Chamber member Dale Dueland voiced his support for encouraging wind energy investment prior to a power crisis, saying it would be easier to accomplish when federal tax credits were available. He also said he disagreed with the tactic of stalling the legislation in committee and thought it should be brought out onto the floor for debate and discussion.
Sen. Hughes said he had thought long and hard on the legislation, adding it wasn't just about power generation but also power transmission. He said the practice of subsidizing consumer power rates by selling excess power could diminish as wind energy reduced coal energy generation, which would cause consumer rates to increase due to the loss of revenue.
Dueland reiterated the benefits of having federal subsidies available to install wind-energy infrastructure, as well as his disagreement with the strategy of stalling the bill in committee.