Golden Opportunity on Wind Energy in Nebraska Unicameral

April is the windiest month on the calendar, caused by the change of seasons. And the winds of April are a good symbol of the growing support for wind energy in the Unicameral and across Nebraska.

LB 402, legislation written to help overcome years of missed opportunity by removing barriers to wind energy development, came to the floor for opening round of debate on April 25. The bill would provide incentives to develop Nebraska’s considerable wind resources in the right way - a way that enables rural Nebraskans to share in the wealth and small business opportunities that development creates.

While all this spring snow makes it feel like we’re still waiting for that change of seasons, our long wait for a change in the way we produce and consume electricity may be coming to an end.

LB 402 builds off of the Community Based Energy Development (C-BED) program Governor Heinemann signed into law in 2007. The bill make it easier to qualify under the C-BED program, boosting participation and making it easier to bring investment into rural communities by encouraging the use of Nebraska materials when developing a new project, and encouraging developers to hire Nebraska citizens to do the work.

Amendments to LB 402 would also encourage wind developers to invest in Nebraskans themselves through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. These plans provide an ownership stake in the projects the employees help create. On average, participants receive 5% to 12% more in wages and have almost three times the retirement assets as do workers in comparable companies, keeping money from local projects here in Nebraska.

By supporting local investment and giving local workers a share in the profit, we can have the best of both worlds: clean, affordable energy and communities that are stronger because of it.

Iowa and South Dakota use wind to generate over 23% of electricity. In Kansas and Colorado, over 11% of energy is generated using wind resources. In Wyoming this number is close to 9%. A total of 14 states, the majority of which have wind resources inferior to ours, generate at least 5% of their electricity using wind power. Nebraska has yet to hit the 4% mark.

Their rural communities have grown. Their schools have improved. Their property taxes have decreased. So have electric rates. All while watching community wealth dramatically improve. That’s because state and local governments throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Plains have enacted policies that level the playing field, remove tax barriers to wind energy development, and create an environment that encourages energy independence.

We urge prompt action on LB 402.