LINCOLN — Nebraska ranks among the worst states for state and utility policies that encourage energy conservation, according to a national organization dedicated to energy efficiency.
Nebraska ranked 44th, down from 42nd a year ago, according to the seventh annual survey of states by the Washington, D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). By contrast, Iowa ranked No. 12, down from 11th a year ago.
The group rates states based on six categories, with utility policies and spending on programs to encourage energy efficiency counting for 20 of the 50 points awarded to each state.
Nebraska's public utilities earned only 1 of 20 points for their policies and benefit programs, compared with 12 of 20 for Iowa's utilities.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, who has introduced a handful of bills on energy conservation, said Wednesday that making energy use more efficient is the cheapest way to reduce energy bills, which have been rising in Nebraska.
“If people say this ranking is faulty, I want to know why,” he said. “If not, we need a strategic plan to essentially become an energy efficiency leader.”
State energy officials downplayed the rankings, saying that as a public power state, Nebraska has fewer state mandates than other states, and doesn't get credit in the rankings for energy-efficiency programs at the local level.
Nebraska Energy Office Director Ginger Willson said in two categories, the state scored well. In “building energy codes,” Nebraska was No. 12, and in “state government initiatives,” it ranked 23rd.
The state runs the Dollar and Energy Savings Loan Program, which offers low-interest loans for home energy efficiency improvements. That program, she said, has financed more than 28,000 projects totaling more than $300 million.
Nebraska's overall low cost of electricity is a disincentive for spending on energy efficiency, said Shelley Sahling-Zart of the Lincoln Electric System, who noted that most of the highest-ranked states had the highest electric costs.
Paula Lukowski of OPPD said the utility has several energy-efficiency programs for commercial, industrial and residential customers, including one that provides incentives to utilize more energy-efficient lighting and reduce overall energy use.
She said one OPPD effort with the University of Nebraska Medical Center reduced its peak electric demand by 5.5 megawatts, about the energy generated by three to four wind turbines.
Mello said “smart policy” dictates that Nebraska reduce its energy costs as much as it can to help individuals and economic development. He noted that in 2010, Nebraska's energy costs rose 4.8 percent, compared with a 0.7 percent rise nationally.