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LOCAL VIEW

Local View: Building future on wind

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aial ganic

Two years ago, on an unseasonably scorching September day, I joined hundreds of fellow climate activists in Lincoln for the Global Climate Strike. Here in Nebraska, we had one clear demand: a transition to renewable energy.

Now, as the Nebraska Public Power District prepares to vote for their upcoming decarbonization goal, it’s time for the state to embrace a fair, sustainable renewable energy future.

The facts are clear: Climate change is real and has been wreaking havoc on our state.

If greenhouse gases continue to rise, Nebraska is expected to face an average temperature increase of up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit, 13 to 16 additional days with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees statewide (and 37 additional days — more than a month — in western Nebraska), and a dangerous decrease in soil moisture.

Despite these dangers, Nebraska still gets 51% of its electricity from coal. But there’s good news: Nebraska has exceptional potential for wind energy. In fact, we have the fourth-highest wind potential in the country.

This transition is a necessary step to mitigate the effects of climate change. But it will also be great for our economy. In fact, the 24% of our power we’re already generating from wind energy brings considerable economic benefits to the state.

While coal jobs continue to vanish nationwide, New Power Nebraska reports that there are 1,400 jobs in Nebraska connected to wind and solar energy, and more will be created as more wind turbines are installed.

These are good jobs, and they have a promising future.

The median hourly wage for wind service turbine technicians nationally is about $27, significantly higher than the $23 median for all construction and extraction jobs. Wind energy technicians are the second fastest growing job in the country, with 68% growth in employment expected between 2020 and 2030.

It’s not just workers that win. Renewable energy is helping landowners, state and local budgets and whole communities.

Annual state and local tax payments connected to wind and solar projects in Nebraska already total $13.3 million. Nebraska landowners have received $4.6 million through annual land lease payments for wind and solar energy projects. And capital investments worth $4 billion have come to the state for renewable projects.

We shouldn’t be debating whether Nebraska should transition to wind energy. Rather, we should be analyzing how to make a just transition to renewable energy that’s fair for all of us.

In a new report I co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies, we laid out three policy tools that can make sure Nebraska’s communities are put first in this inevitable transition: a statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard, net metering and community-owned wind energy.

Renewable Portfolio Standards are rules that direct utilities to produce a larger share of renewable energy. Nationally, these standards accounted for 45% of renewable energy generation growth between 2000 and 2020.

They’ve also proven to be successful next-door in Iowa, which now ranks first in the country for its share of electricity coming from wind energy. Nebraska should follow suit and set an RPS of its own.

Net metering allows households that generate their own renewable power to sell energy to the grid and receive credit for future energy bills. That’s a direct benefit for households looking to save money. It also distributes power back to the people by decentralizing our energy structure.

Nebraska does have a net metering policy, but it’s too restrictive. Making it more generous could encourage more households to switch to renewables.

Finally, making wind energy community-owned — instead of owned by a utility company — would help more Nebraskans take part in renewable energy, provide secure electricity rates and give Nebraskans autonomy over their energy generation.

When combined with net-metering, it would ensure that whole communities get maximum savings on their energy bills. Nebraska could promote more community-owned energy generation by requiring utilities to purchase power from community-owned facilities in their service territory.

Our policymakers and the Nebraska Public Power District Board of Directors have a choice about what kind of future we want for the state: heat waves, droughts, and disappearing jobs — or clean air and water, affordable energy and good jobs for the future.

Aila Ganić is a "Next Leader" at the Institute for Policy Studies and lead author of the IPS report, "Rain and Sunshine and Wind: How an Energy Transition Could Power Nebraska.” She lives in Lincoln.

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