Wind Power Cleanup Stalls; Medicaid Expansion Plan Questioned

April 23, 2019, 6:13 p.m. ·

Sen. Bruce Bostelman in debate Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Listen To This Story

In the Legislature Tuesday, wind power supporters blocked a proposal to require developers remove the concrete bases for turbines when they’re taken down. And senators continued to question how Gov. Pete Ricketts administration plans to expand Medicaid.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman introduced the proposed requirement on wind developers. Bostelman said there are currently 985 wind turbines in Nebraska, and another 2,130 planned.

Bostelman said he was looking ahead to when they reach the end of their 20-25 years of useful life. “There will be a time when a wind turbine is at the end of its useful life. I want to ensure the responsibilities for restoring the land and the ability to pay for it, generations down the line, are solidly on the shoulders of the wind turbine owner,” Bostelman said. “This bill is about making sure our land is properly returned to its original condition and preserved for when we are no longer here.”

Bostelman said current contracts typically call for wind companies to remove the concrete base for wind towers to a depth of 3 feet below the ground. But that can still leave 3-5 feet of concrete and rebar, in a pad 50-65 feet across, underground. “The crops that are going to be planted over the top of this are going to be stunted, or this will be a dead spot for them, because the roots of corn, the roots of alfalfa, that stuff goes far deeper than the three or four foot of the removals,” he said.

Sen. Carol Blood was among those opposing the proposal. She asked Bostelman about his motivation. “Can you tell me the safety or public welfare rationale for such a statute, except to oppose wind energy?” Blood asked.

“This does not oppose wind energy. It does not stop wind energy,” Bostelman insisted.

Other opponents said wind energy projects are bringing much needed income and tax revenues to rural areas. And Sen. John McCollister arguing the state shouldn’t dictate arrangements for cleanup after wind towers are removed. “This bill is a solution without a problem. I think we need to think of it in this way, because it’s absolutely unnecessary and puts landowners under an undue burden and limits their control over their own ground,” McCollister said.

Senators used up the three hours scheduled for debate before reaching a vote. Asked later if he has enough support to get it rescheduled, Bostelman said only “We’ll see.”

Also Tuesday, members of the Appropriations Committee questioned Department of Health and Human Services officials about rising administrative costs for Medicaid expansion.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann questioned the department’s proposal to require new Medicaid patients, and some existing ones, to meet more requirements in order to qualify for dental, vision, and over-the-drug coverage.

Hilkemann cited what he said was other states’ experience imposing additional requirements for services like those, considered optional under Medicaid. “Lo and behold, they’ll do it for about a year or two and then they find out they haven’t saved anything. In fact they’ve cost themselves more money, because they’re not cutting down on the services that people get. They’re just cutting down on who can provide the services,” he said.

Hilkemann gave the example of someone needing an emergency root canal going to the emergency room instead of a dentist. HHS Medicaid Director Matthew Van Patton said people would have access to a dentist in an emergency like that. And he defended requiring people to participate in ‘active care and case management’ in order to access dental, vision, and over-the-counter drug coverage.

“All you have to do is have a phone call. That ticks the box. You’re in ‘active care and case management’ at that point. They’re asking you basic questions around ‘When was the last time you had a care exchange? When was the last time you visited a dentist? Do you wear glasses?’ You’re getting baseline information so you know how best to help that individual find those access points,” he said.

The state’s proposal is now being considered by the federal government. The plan is to begin providing expanded Medicaid coverage in October of next year.