Do we face environmental or economic ruin?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nebraskans have traditionally enjoyed some of the lowest electrical costs in the nation, due, in part to its status, along with Alaska, as a totally "public power" state.

That means the people who run the electrical systems answer not to investors looking to make a profit, but to customers who want to pay as little as possible for their energy.

Monday's announcement of new EPA carbon dioxide emission restrictions doesn't mean that we'll start paying more than other states, but like all other states, Nebraska will start paying more.

In March, Nebraska residential customers paid an average of 9.48 cents per kilowatt hour.

That's more than Washington State residents, who paid an average of 8.41 cents, but it's less than a fourth of what our fellow U.S. citizens in Hawaii paid, 38.51 cents per kilowatt-hour.

It's not hard to see why some states have lower electrical costs than others. Many of them are like West Virginia with 9.24 cents, which gets 95 percent of its power from coal. Washington State gets nearly 70 percent of its power from hydroelectric sources. North Dakota, 8.64 cents, gets 79 percent of its power from coal, and Louisiana, 9.17 cents, gets more than half of its electricity from natural gas.

Hawaii, the most expensive power state in the nation, gets 74 percent of its power from expensive sources like petroleum, and because of those high prices, alternative energy like solar already make economic sense there.

It will be a long time before solar or wind energy are cheaper than coal in Nebraska, but many see that as the goal of the new regulation.

Nebraska Public Power District officials said Monday they weren't sure how much or how quickly the new regulations will affect our electrical bills.

The plan provides an individual carbon reduction goal for each state, which is 26 percent for Nebraska compared to 30 percent nationwide.

It won't be easy, since Nebraska derives 72 percent of its power from coal, but it has a few other options, 18 percent nuclear, 3 percent hydro, 1 percent natural gas and 5 percent other renewables.

Flooding and other problems with one of the state's two nuclear plants cast a shadow over that sector, however, as does aging of both plants.

"We don't anticipate major changes in the early years, but NPPD will have a solid strategy in place to meet the long-term requirement," an optimistic Mark Becker, NPPD spokesman told The Associated Press.

But we are heavily invested in coal, including the Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, which converts as much as 800 tons of coal an hour into 1,365 megawatts of power. Emissions controls have been upgraded over its nearly four decades of operation.

A recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln report said coal power and railroad transportation of coal supports 22,800 jobs in the state.

A White House release indicated 25 million metric tons of carbon pollution -- equal to 5 million cars -- were emitted from power plants in 2012. The new regulations will, nationwide, prevent 100,000 asthma attacks in children and young adults, and help avoid 1,800-4,270 premature deaths and up to 2,100 heart attacks, the release predicts.

Opponents contend the new regulations will kill 224,000 jobs and shrink the economy by $51 billion.

Do we face an environmental disaster or an economic apocalypse?

Like so many issues, the truth, and the wise path, lie somewhere in the middle.

Check out a state-by-state comparison of energy costs here: http://1.usa.gov/1osgv2t

Check out sources here: http://bit.ly/1l2PPGa

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