This week my priority bill, LB 155, was again debated on the floor. Sen. Rob Clements was very generous and used his priority designation on my bill. After this bill failed to advance the first time we debated it in February, things looked grim. The action Sen. Clements took brought the bill back to life.
This almost never happens. I cannot thank him enough.
I must also recognize the many concerned Nebraskans from all over our great state who steadfastly supported this effort through telephone calls, emails, in-person visits to the Capitol and their stories about why they want to preserve their property rights and their way of life.
Right now, there is a sentence in Nebraska law stating that connection to a privately developed wind energy facility is a “public use.” This special status gives wind energy developers access to the government power of eminent domain. It allows them to use a state agency like NPPD to forcibly seize private property from their neighbor to build power lines to connect a wind farm to the power grid.
This sentence in the law is an absolute statement and cannot be challenged in a courtroom, regardless of the evidence.
Originally, LB 155 did away with private wind energy’s “public use” status entirely by deleting that sentence from the law. Unfortunately, the bill faced significant opposition the first time it was debated, and we fell two votes short.
A filibuster was planned for this latest round of debate. Wind energy still enjoys considerable support in the Legislature, so I could not put together enough votes to fight the filibuster head-on. I was facing a battle I could not win, so I had to find a different option. After numerous meetings with opponents and with allies, we put together an amendment to the bill.
With the amendment, there would still be a statement in the law about connection to wind and other renewables being a “public use.” But this statement would no longer be absolute.
With the change in the amended version of LB 155, a landowner would be able to challenge the use of eminent domain in court. If the bill is made into law, the landowner would be able to ask the judge to decide whether or not a certain project was really for a public use.
Now, using eminent domain to build feeder lines will be a little less certain for the wind energy developers. Our hope is to keep them at the negotiating table trying to cooperate with landowners instead of just counting on the courts to force their hand.
It is not a silver bullet, but this bill unlocks a door to the courthouse that was shut to landowners before.
Making concessions is something no one enjoys doing. In politics, they say “you can have all of nothing or part of something.” Without this compromise, another defeat would have been a certainty.
After three legislative sessions and over two years of fighting, we won a victory for private property rights Wednesday. LB 155 advanced this week on a 40–1 vote.
To my knowledge, this is the first time the Legislature has ever pushed back on wind energy, and it will not be the last.
Contact Sen. Tom Brewer: firstname.lastname@example.org.