Local View: More needed to help state’s wind energy

August 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Talk about bold leadership.

The recent announcement by the Lincoln Electric System that it is buying 100 megawatts of wind energy is a momentous move by Nebraska’s third-largest public power district. This single purchase agreement will more than double LES’ energy from renewable sources — rocketing LES to the leadership spot in the state with 23 percent of its electricity derived from green sources. In one bold stroke, Lincoln’s customer-owned utility is prudently diversifying its generation portfolio and reducing its heavy reliance on coal with its manifold health, environmental and cost concerns. This is exactly the kind of initiative, innovation and accountability we citizens want from our government institutions. LES is to be saluted.

As for the fact that the wind energy will be coming from Oklahoma and not Nebraska (as the Lincoln Journal Star so aptly pointed out in its lead editorial July 26), this is not the fault of LES but primarily is a shortcoming in state law. While the focus of new energy investment is mandated to be low-cost and reliable energy, concerns about negative health effects, long-term financial risk, lost economic development opportunity and tax revenues, and water usage need not be considered under current law. Within the narrow limitations of this legislative mandate, what LES did is understandable.

It was to address this very problem that I introduced LB567 in the 2013 legislative session. LB567, The True Cost of Energy Bill, is alive in the Natural Resources Committee and would amend state law to require public power districts to consider those factors mentioned above that affect their customer-owners – YOU and ME — beyond just affordability and reliability.

As the customer-owners of our 100 percent publicly owned power utilities, Nebraskans all want low costs and reliable service. But we are entitled to more.

We are entitled to know the full cost and effects on our health, our air and our water of supposedly cheap sources of energy such as burning coal. Coal is a known source of respiratory and heart disease, which in turn makes ourselves, our children and our grandchildren sicker and drives up our health care costs.

Seventy-eight of our ponds and lakes in the state now have toxic levels of mercury, which makes the fish unfit for human consumption. The source of that mercury? Burning coal to produce electricity. And coal is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our climate. When we factor in these costs on our health, our air, our water, our land and our environment, coal hardly is cheap.

You and I pay a severance tax to Wyoming for every ton of coal that we buy. By developing Nebraska’s homegrown wind and solar resources and investing our utility dollars right here, we could be developing our economy, creating our jobs and lowering our taxes.

And finally, coal costs have been rising on average 8 percent annually, which will keep our electric bills rising and rising. As fuel sources, the sun and wind are infinite and free; we just need to harness them.

So if it doesn’t feel right to have our publicly owned power district buying wind power from Oklahoma when Nebraska has the fourth-best wind resources in the entire country, don’t blame LES. Blame antiquated state statute. Blame the Legislature. The Legislature needs to get off its hands and pass LB567, or something stronger, so that the next time any Public Power District in Nebraska buys wind, it will be from a wind farm right here in Husker Nation.

Comments are closed.