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Neb. legislators advance renewable energy development bill

Legislatorsin Nebraska on April 7 advanced LB824 — a bill aimed at boosting the development of private renewableenergy, especially wind power, in the state — to a final reading on a voicevote.

Firstintroduced Jan. 8, the bill would exempt private renewable generation fromcertain regulations that apply to electric generation facilities during theconstruction or acquisition process. Additionally, developers would no longerbe required to have a power purchase agreement in place before a facility isbuilt and other power suppliers would be banned from using eminent domain toacquire property owned by the private facility.

TheNebraska Legislature's Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 27 held a on the bill at whichproponents of the legislation said the current regulatory environment inNebraska has discouraged investments in wind power. Opponents said the billwould limit the Nebraska Power Review Board's oversight of private companies.

Anamendment to the bill proposed by Sen. Ken Haar, a Democrat, which 32-8, removed aprovision that would have required the Power Review Board to decide whether anew electric generation facility would create stranded assets. The Power ReviewBoard is the state's electric utility regulatory agency.

Accordingto Haar, Nebraska is currently third in the U.S. for wind energy potential butlags behind in development because of current regulations. Republican Sen. JohnMcCollister, who introduced the bill, supported Haar's amendment.

Regulations"are killing Nebraska when it comes to our public utilities and winddevelopment," McCollister said, praising the potential benefits of privatedevelopment.

However,Republican Sen. Curt Friesen, who opposed the amendment, said it would removeprotections for public utilities and ratepayers. Demand for coal-fired powerwould decrease, forcing utilities to increase rates if more electricity from windenergy is added to the grid, Friesen said. Friesen introduced an amendment thatwould have reinstated the provisions removed by Haar's amendment, but it failedto pass.

In a 34-3 vote, lawmakers also approved a separate amendmentintroduced by McCollister to appropriate $19,000 in fiscal year 2016-2017 andthe same amount in fiscal year 2017-2018 to the Power Review Board.