Waiting for Wind

The long wait is finally over. After years of research, debate, and political bickering, the Nebraska Unicameral recently passed a bill that offers wind developers incentives for building in Nebraska. Unfortunately, however, it fails to provide an incentive for developing wind right – in a manner that maximizes Nebraska ownership, wealth, and business opportunities.

Legislative Bill 104 provides a sales tax exemption for new renewable electric generation projects. The Center for Rural Affairs worked to tie the sales tax exemption to purchases from Nebraska businesses, employment of local workers, and creation of employee stock ownership arrangements.

Simply put the bill as passed hands over incentives just for showing up. We and most other Nebraska organizations that support wind development argued unsuccessfully to require that you invest in Nebraska before the state invests in you.

LB 104 is a step in the right direction. By encouraging wind developers to build in Nebraska, this bill helps grow the rural economy. New jobs will be created, schools and roads will improve, and com¬munities will experience an influx of activity. The state is better for it.

But it’s important to remember just how much was left on the table. While neighboring states have benefited from the economic development wind energy offers, many rural leaders will tell you that requiring investment in local communities is a requirement worth making. Instead of flowing to out-of-state contractors, accountants, and engineers, money would instead be used to bolster existing businesses and help fund new enterprises.

And extending the opportunity to own a piece of wind farms to the rural Nebraskans who climb the turbines to keep them running would have been good for the entire community. It builds local wealth and the economic resilience of residents.

Encouraging local ownership and supporting local businesses helps build the Nebraska economy, not just a project. That’s important to the future of Nebraska, rural and urban alike. The Center for Rural Affairs supported passage of LB 104, but we know that Nebraska can do better. With your help we’ll work hard during the next legislative session to make sure our elected officials get it right.