Local View: When opportunity knocks

2013-05-11T23:57:00Z 2015-01-28T16:47:30Z Local View: When opportunity knocksBY GALEN HADLEY JournalStar.com
May 11, 2013 11:57 pm  • 

There is an old saying: When opportunity knocks, open the door, because it may not knock again.

This saying is true in Nebraska in 2013. Huge economic opportunities from wind development are knocking on our door, but the Legislature needs to use the right keys this year for Nebraska to receive its benefits. If we fail to do so, the opportunity likely will be lost forever.

LB104 provides a key to convert the wind that is constantly blowing through our state into dollars for Nebraskans. LB104 has a simple concept; modify the Nebraska Advantage Act so that renewable energy companies can make use of tax exemptions available to other industries in order to develop their projects and thereby enable us to compete with neighboring states for wind development projects.

LB104 is supported by many organizations, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, farm organizations and conservationists. There are many reasons to support LB104, but the bottom line is that it will bring new businesses and economic opportunities to Nebraska.

Nebraska recently missed out on a big opportunity when Facebook decided to invest $1.5 billion in a new facility in Iowa. The fact that Iowa generates 10 times as much electricity from wind as Nebraska was a major factor in their decision. We are dead last among our neighboring states in wind development despite the fact we have better wind potential than most of them, in large part because of public policies that have not supported wind development. I represent the Kearney area and know that we have everything but the wind energy component to offer projects such as Facebook.

We cannot afford to miss out on new opportunities. TradeWind Energy has plans to build a 200 MW wind farm in Dixon County, which represents a $300 million investment that would create 160 construction jobs and 15 permanent jobs. It is estimated that it would generate $800,000 in annual tax revenue for local schools, counties, cities and NRDs.

However, we need to pass LB104 this year to make this happen. TradeWind intends to make their investment decision this year in order to take advantage of the federal renewable energy production tax credit, which was extended for this year after last-minute wrangling in Congress. TradeWind likely will go to Kansas or Oklahoma to develop the project if we don't pass LB104 because those states already have laws that provide favorable treatment for wind development.

Economic benefits to rural communities provide one of the strongest arguments for wind development. Most of our rural communities are declining, their young people moving to urban areas. Petersburg, Neb., population 333, has experienced a veritable renaissance from wind development projects. They have a new hometown grocery store, something almost unheard of in rural Nebraska, and there are baby strollers on the sidewalks again, indicating that young people will choose to live and raise their families in rural Nebraska if given the right opportunity.

Some critics have said we should wait for the completion of the Legislature's study of tax policies. Others have suggested that more local investment should be required to qualify for these exemptions.

I have examined the evidence and concluded we should not wait. As Chairman of the Revenue Committee, I intend to lead a thorough examination of tax policies and make recommendations that benefit all Nebraskans. However, a study should not prevent us from taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. Warren Buffett's significant investments in wind development in Iowa show the importance of good state policies. We simply cannot afford to wait when the benefits to Nebraskans lie in the balance.

The argument that we should require more local investment is appealing. I also support LB402, which contains local investment incentive provisions. However, LB402 is better suited to smaller projects. TradeWind intends to invest in Nebraska if we pass LB104, but is unlikely to do so if LB402 is the only incentive available. LB104 probably will unlock other investments in Nebraska wind developments.

Opportunity is knocking. Let's open the door to economic benefits for Nebraskans. Let's pass LB104.

Galen Hadley of Kearney represents legislative District 37.

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