LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — An effort to encourage more wind energy development in Nebraska hit a roadblock this session, but some Nebraska lawmakers are determined to capitalize on the state's wind potential.
Despite Nebraska's strong potential for wind, the state has had difficulty getting major wind development because of a lack of significant tax incentives and the public power structure with a mandate for low-cost energy.
Nebraska lawmakers have discussed a few bills relating to wind energy this session.
One of those bills, designed to encourage public power districts to consider more renewable energy, has failed.
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, the bill's sponsor, withdrew the bill from consideration this week, saying he didn't have the votes to advance it.
Current law states that public power districts should provide low-cost electricity. Haar's bill would have required public power districts to include factors such as economic development and risk analysis.
Haar argued that some districts use the state rules as an excuse to avoid developing more wind energy.
The state should be using its own resources instead of using coal and even wind-generated power from other states, he said.
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion opposed the bill.
Renewable energy development shouldn't happen through a mandate on the backs of businesses and families who will see an increase in cost, Smith said.
"If you're forced into building more renewable, it is redundant because you still have to have the fossil (fuels) in place to back that up to create the reliability and certainty our businesses and our families need," Smith said.
Nebraska has the fourth best wind resource in the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association. Neighboring Iowa ranks seventh, according to the association.
Elizabeth Salerno, vice president of industry data and analysis for the group, said the ranking is based on wind speed and consistency at 80 to 100 meters, or wind turbine height, and the availability of land.
In 2013, Iowa ranked first in percentage of wind energy generation, with 27 percent of its energy from wind, while Nebraska ranked 18th, according to the association.
The state's major public power districts are already adding wind energy, but more slowly than some want, said Beth Boesch, senior manager of government and public relations for Nebraska Public Power District.
NPPD will have 17 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2016, she said.
This year, Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis introduced a bill to study the state's future needs for transmission infrastructure to serve Nebraska consumers and to export electricity out of the state. Davis' bill faces one more vote of approval before the Legislature.
Davis said he wants to encourage private industry to develop wind energy in the state. The study would show these businesses the state is "open for business," he said.
There is a need to study marketing potential and transmission opportunities, Davis said.
"One of my big issues has been depopulation of rural Nebraska and from the very beginning I think wind energy might be our best opportunity" to reverse depopulation, he said.
Developing wind energy could have a positive effect on rural Nebraska by providing stable, high-paying jobs, Davis said.
Lawmakers have approved a measure to make it easier for renewable energy firms to qualify for sales-tax exemptions this year.
Haar said he is going to keep working on the issue next year.
"I'll be back next year," Haar said. "I'm not done with this."
The bills are LB965, LB1115 and LB402