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21st birthday party invite: Come testify about climate change at a public meeting in Lincoln with me
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21st birthday party invite: Come testify about climate change at a public meeting in Lincoln with me

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Unlike her bar-crawling, college-aged peers, University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior Brittni McGuire's 21st birthday plans focused on getting her friends to a 9:30 a.m. Lincoln Electric System board meeting Friday.

McGuire, president of Sustain UNL, is passionate about the need for government and society to act and mitigate the effects of climate change.

And so before she turns 21 on Sunday, McGuire wanted to get 21 people to encourage the LES board to join Omaha Public Power District in setting a goal to decarbonize its power production.

By 2050 at the latest, LES should produce 100% of its power from renewable resources, McGuire said.

"As the LES board, you have my future in your hands," McGuire said at Friday morning's meeting.

About 21 people showed up to support her and 19 testified during the public comment period. The group included other UNL students, long-time environmental activists and first-time public speakers.

Many applauded the work LES has undertaken to increase its energy production from renewable resources such as wind, water and solar.

LES generates the equivalent of 45% of its customer power load from renewable sources, according to the utility.

But the LES board needs to be more aggressive and commit to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, which give off greenhouse gases in energy production and contribute to climate change, the speakers said.

Board members didn't respond to comments made by McGuire and her fellow testifiers after the public comment period ended.

CEO Kevin Wailes told the Lincoln City Council last month that LES is committed to finding the best ways to do it.

Between 2010 and 2018, the utility has reduced its carbon emissions by 32%, Wailes said.

Renewable energy sources comprise about a third of the LES production base, with coal and natural gas marking the other two-thirds.

And LES tries to keep the utility diversified so, long-term, its customers aren't adversely affected by any one decision, he told the council.

Kat Werner, a fellow UNL student and friend of McGuire's, pointed to the trauma of seeing her childhood friend's Bellevue home under 6 feet of water last March because of the historic flooding.

She doesn't want to ever be desensitized to that, and severe weather is an effect of climate change that policymakers need to consider, she said. 

"Please vote and act as if you were my age," Werner said.

Rallying friends and fellow activists to the meeting Friday was less about celebrating her birthday and more about "how we need to get work done" on climate change, McGuire said. 

And she told the board she'll be back next month.

"We're just going to keep the pressure on them until they set the goal and start working toward it," McGuire said afterward.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Local government reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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