Nebraska’s Energy Office director says the state needs a comprehensive approach to its energy policies as it faces what could be a "seismic" change in federal regulations governing emissions.
David Bracht, Gov. Pete Ricketts’ chief adviser on energy issues, talked about state energy policies Wednesday at the eighth annual Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference in Omaha.
Past Nebraska policies, he said, have amounted to “discrete segmented programs” like weatherization assistance for low-income people and loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
“We haven’t often thought about energy in a comprehensive way," Bracht said. "And I’m certain we have never thought about energy in an integrated way."
The Ricketts administration emphasizes the importance of looking at energy as an essential aspect of economic development in Nebraska, he said, and a comprehensive energy policy needs to address more than just electricity.
It also needs to consider industrially important energy sources like natural gas and transportation fuels.
“We have parts of the state that for years have been limited in their ability to expand manufacturing because of lack of natural gas access. That’s an example of a different energy source we should be thinking about on a policy basis,” he said.
Bracht said Nebraska has untapped potential for developing wind and solar energy and said officials must figure out how development of those resources will best fit the state.
Nebraska is ranked fourth in the nation for wind power potential but fails to crack the top 20 states in terms of development.
“It’s part of our cost of living for every one of our citizens," Bracht said. "It’s a part of our cost of doing business. Every single business has to think about how they use energy. And not just electric energy, all forms of energy.”
He said the biggest issue facing the state's electric production is the Clean Power Plan, a set of new federal regulations. Nebraska is one of 24 states suing to stop the regulations that seek to reduce U.S. carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32 percent. The plan sets individual 15-year goals for each state and calls for Nebraska to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.
If states don’t come up with their own plans to meet the goals, the federal government will impose them.
Bracht, in response to a question, said a regional approach to addressing carbon mitigation could be beneficial for the wind industry in Nebraska, a state with plenty of wind to generate electricity to be exported.
He said it could make compliance cheaper, but cautioned that is not the same thing as cheap.
“At the end of the day, there is still going to be costs associated with the Clean Power Plan,” he said.
The Ricketts administration has not said yet whether it will submit a plan to the EPA if the lawsuit fails. The governor has asked the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to discuss with state utilities how the federal regulations would affect the state.
DEQ Director Jim Macy has said plans are being made to create a carbon mitigation plan for Nebraska that will include public meetings and input.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska Legislature has instructed the state Energy Office to create a comprehensive energy plan and budgeted more than $630,000 to see it done.
Bracht also mentioned the need for making government infrastructure more efficient, noting that when state, city, schools and other government entities are added up, they are one of the largest aggregate users of energy in the state. Making them more efficient would save cash for the taxpayers footing the bill.
Coal represented 63 percent of the fuel source used to generate electricity in Nebraska last year, nuclear represented 26 percent and wind 7 percent, Bracht said.
The State Wind and Energy Conference continues Thursday with a variety of sessions including panel discussions with state senators and the heads of Nebraska’s three largest electrical utilities, Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electrical System.