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Wind energy tax measure headed to final Neb. vote

Grant Schulte, Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- A plan aimed at attracting wind-energy farms to Nebraska is headed to a final vote in the Legislature.

Lawmakers gave second-round approval Tuesday to the bill, which would extend sales tax exemptions to wind-energy companies. One firm, TradeWind Energy, has expressed interest in developing a wind farm in Dixon County, near the Iowa and South Dakota border.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said the bill is designed to keep Nebraska competitive with other high-wind states in the Plains that have offered tax incentives, allowing companies to lower their costs. Nebraska currently charges a sales tax on all equipment and materials used in wind-energy projects.

"Clearly, the potential is enormous and the development lagging behind," Lathrop said.

Some lawmakers questioned whether Nebraska residents would receive enough of the direct benefits and whether the proposal would run afoul of state laws that govern public power. Smith said lawmakers should first study Nebraska's energy policy, although bill supporters argued that doing so would likely cost the state a possible business deal with TradeWind, of Lenexa, Kan.

Lathrop said the 200-megawatt wind farm would provide lease payments to local landowners of $10,000 to $15,000 per turbine, create 200 construction jobs and 12 to 16 permanent jobs, and generate $700,000 a year in local taxes.

Nebraska ranks as one of the nation's biggest wind-producing states, but 26th in the energy it could produce with equipment currently installed. It lags behind its neighboring states: Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas.

The vote came as TradeWind Energy considers building a wind farm in northeast Nebraska. In April, Nebraska officially lost a bid to attract a $300 million Facebook data center to Iowa. A company executive told Iowa reporters that wind energy played a substantial role in its decision.

Some lawmakers said the decision to build its facility in Altoona, Iowa, a Des Moines suburb, was based only partially on wind energy. The company also chose Iowa because it has a more robust network of fiber-optic cables, said Sen. Jim Smith, of Papillion.

Company executives also noted that the Des Moines metro area — with nearly 600,000 people — was easier an easier flight from San Francisco, Smith said. He said officials were also unaware that Facebook's push for renewable energy would a significant role in the company's decision.

The renewable energy bill has drawn criticism from Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. When the Legislature's Revenue Committee voted 5-3 to advance the bill in March, Heineman said he was "very disappointed" and accused supporters of supporting tax breaks to out-of-state companies.


The bill is LB104