The writer is executive director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation.
On Feb. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold the president’s proposed Clean Power Plan while federal courts deal with legal challenges to the new rule.
The rule would require each state to develop a plan to reduce carbon pollution from electric power plants, to achieve a 32 percent reduction nationwide by 2030.
The University of Nebraska, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Academy of Sciences and many others have highlighted the threats that climate change poses to Nebraska. Our state’s economy, built largely on agriculture and natural resources, faces disruption in weather patterns and water supplies if we fail to take action to reduce carbon pollution and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
The Clean Power Plan sets a very achievable goal for Nebraska: reduce carbon pollution from power plants by about 2 percent per year over the next 15 years. States can choose the best recipes to achieve their goals, using strategies such as energy conservation, new wind and solar farms, better building codes and shifts from dirty coal to cleaner fuels.
Opponents claim the new rules will increase electric bills. In fact, the new rules give states broad flexibility to choose the most affordable ways to reduce carbon pollution. Fortunately, clean energy today is also cheap energy.
Industry sources say new Nebraska wind contracts in 2014 were approaching 2 cents per kilowatt hour. Energy efficiency measures — such as replacing inefficient lights, weatherizing homes and businesses, and replacing inefficient motors — deliver energy at just 1 cent to 3 cents per kilowatt hour. At those prices, energy conservation and wind can compete with every coal-fired power plant in Nebraska and are substantially cheaper than most.
Experience confirms that. When Lincoln Electric System announced a plan in 2014 to reach 48 percent renewable energy (from just 8 percent in 2011), utility officials said customers would save $429 million over the life of the new wind contracts.
Omaha Public Power District also adopted a new generation plan in 2014. Utility officials said the plan would cut OPPD carbon pollution in half by 2033, with no net cost to its customer-owners over a business-as-usual approach.
While the cost of wind and solar energy has been falling, the cost of coal has been rising quickly.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that in 2000, Nebraska electric utilities spent $111 million for coal delivered to Nebraska power plants, paying $9.66 per ton at the power plant. By 2013, the price tag Nebraskans paid for coal delivered to power plants had ballooned to $387 million. From 2004 through 2012, the delivered cost of coal to Nebraska power plants rose by 11 percent annually on average — much faster than inflation — to $24.43 per ton by 2013.
While some Nebraska utilities were burning more coal, over four-fifths of that increase was due to the rapidly rising cost of mining and delivering coal.
The Energy Department projects that mine-mouth coal prices will continue to rise faster than inflation over the next 25 years, especially in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which supplies coal to Nebraska. Wyoming mining companies face coal seams that are thinner and deeper underground, increasing the cost to mine the coal.
Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars to import coal and gas from other states when we can invest in home-grown energy solutions? Weatherizing homes and businesses creates local jobs and keeps energy dollars in our communities. New wind and solar farms create jobs in rural Nebraska and take advantage of our abundant renewable resources.
Nebraska companies can prosper under the Clean Power Plan by selling wind energy to utilities in states that cannot match Nebraska’s wind resources. That will bring investment and jobs to Nebraska.
Nebraskans should recognize this opportunity to reduce carbon pollution, create local jobs and keep energy dollars inside our state. Nebraskans who care about clean, affordable, reliable electricity should embrace Clean Power Plan rules.
Rather than wait for the courts to act, Nebraska should move ahead to craft a state plan to expand the use of energy conservation, increase wind and solar power, and phase out polluting coal power plants. The result would be cleaner air, affordable electricity and expanded jobs for our state.