Nebraska needs to keep energy options open

Monday, March 28, 2016

At the risk of using an Easter metaphor a day too late, we'd say Nebraska is putting most of its eggs in one basket when it comes to energy.

A bill to make it easier for private developers to build renewable energy facilities in Nebraska failed to make it out of committee this legislative session, so our state will continue to depend on coal for the majority of its electricity.

We were frankly surprised by a report that Nebraska gets 8 percent of its electricity from wind and four percent from hydroelectric generation.

Not surprisingly, 26 percent comes from nuclear power, and even less surprisingly, 61.5 percent from coal.

By comparison, Iowa gets 31 percent of its power from wind, 9 percent nuclear, 4 percent natural gas, 1 percent hydroelectric and 53 percent from coal.

But the rest of the United States isn't all that much more "green" than Nebraska. Natural gas, more competitive in price because of new fracking technology, is expected to provide 33.4 percent of energy nationally compared to coal's 32 percent.

Nebraska and Iowa get 1 percent of their power from natural gas.

State Sen. Dan Hughes said he thought long and hard about the alternative energy bill before voting against moving it out of committee.

Coal is still the cheapest source of power, and it's inefficient to shut down and ramp up coal-fired plants in response to variations in wind power, he said.

That's true. Coal costs $1.34 per million BTUs, about 30 percent less than the national average. It's the main reason (nearly) all-public-power Nebraska has some of the lowest rates in the nation. Our representative in Lincoln is also correct that power transmission and selling excess energy are important components to the formula.

But during one of Hughes' legislative calls to the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce, Dale Dueland make some good points -- it would be easier to use wind power to hedge our energy bets while federal tax credits are available. It's also disappointing that the legislation didn't get a full hearing on the floor of the Legislature.

Long-range, Nebraska will want to have all of its energy options open.

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