Husker Power Plan

Clean Energy for a Brighter Tomorrow

by Duane Hovorka, former Executive Director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation

Goals

As Nebraska moves away from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to generate electricity, a much larger share of our electricity can come from cleaner, in-state sources. The goals of our Husker Power Plan include:

  • Reducing air pollution from power plants that is sickening and killing Nebraskans.
  • Ensuring a sustainable, affordable system for generating our electricity for future generations.
  • Reducing Nebraska’s use of out-of-state coal, keeping money and jobs in Nebraska.
  • Reducing pollution produced by Nebraska electric utilities that has been linked to climate change.

A clean energy future for Nebraska’s electric utilities could start with investments to reduce energy use and decisions to add renewable wind and solar energy as outlined in this plan. In the future, energy storage, “Smart Grid” technology, co-generation, and district energy systems that make more efficient use of energy could continue the transition. Surplus coal-fired power plants could be closed, starting with the oldest and most polluting.

Manage Our Demand

To reduce wasteful energy use and save Nebraska businesses and residents money, our plan would put in place community-driven energy efficiency programs designed to ramp up over several years, eventually delivering a 2 percent annual reduction in electricity consumed through energy efficiency measures and better building codes and standards.

As the energy savings grow over the next decade they would more than offset the 0.4 percent annual growth in peak demand for electricity now expected by our utilities, reduce the generating capacity needed to be in place to meet demands at peak times of use, and reduce the total electricity consumed by Nebraskans.

The energy savings would come from weatherizing homes, businesses and other buildings; installing energy efficient lighting, heating, cooling, motors and appliances; consumer education and incentives. These investments would generate jobs throughout the state.

Add Wind and Solar

To provide clean renewable energy, our plan would add 1,500 to 1,850 megawatts (MW) of new community and large-scale wind farms over the next five years, allowing Nebraska to at least double its current electricity generated by wind. Nebraska would also add at least 129 MW of community and large-scale solar generation over the next five years.

With those additions, renewable wind, solar and hydroelectric energy would meet nearly half of Nebraska’s electricity needs by 2023.

Recent Nebraska wind contracts have cost just 1.5 to 2.0 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), competitive with any of Nebraska’s existing coal or gas-fired power plants. New wind farms could be located in areas where there is low wildlife and environmental impact and access to existing transmission lines. Nebraska has an abundance of wind and solar potential, and the cost of both continues to fall.

Infrastructure Needed

A 2014 study for the Power Review Board concluded that with transmission lines in place or in the works, our state could accommodate new wind and solar at the level we propose. Given changes since 2014, including the closure of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, we support continued studies to identify transmission or other changes needed to implement this plan.

In the future, as old, outdated coal-fired power-plants are closed, more transmission line capacity would be freed up. Nebraska boasts many areas with strong wind and solar potential and low wildlife and other resource concerns, and additional wind and solar farms could be brought on-line as outdated power plants are closed.

Taking the Next Steps

Over the next five years, the initial steps above would reduce Nebraska’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, create in-state jobs, and set up our state for the next steps towards a 100-percent clean energy future. As technologies improve and costs continue to fall, there are many options available for those next steps.

Utility-scale batteries are now available, the technology is improving rapidly, and prices are falling.

Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are increasingly popular. With careful planning, utilities could tap vehicle batteries to meet peak power demand when vehicles are not in use. Utilities would also benefit by selling power to recharge vehicle batteries, typically at off-peak times.

Energy can be stored through compressed air or pumped hydro facilities, using electricity to store energy during times of surplus and converting the stored energy back to electricity when most needed.

New “Smart Grid” technology can improve the generation and transmission of electricity, help consumers and utilities use energy more efficiently, and better time our energy use with available supplies of wind and solar.

Co-generation projects use waste heat from industries to generate electricity, or use waste heat from a power plant for industrial use. Nebraska has many ethanol and industrial plants that generate waste heat that could be used to generate electricity.

Lincoln and Omaha have district energy systems that provide heating and cooling to multiple buildings in one area. Expanding those systems and developing district energy in other communities would save energy.

Close Old, Dirty Coal-Fired Power Plants

As we manage our demand and add affordable wind and solar energy, Nebraska will increasingly be powered by clean, renewable electricity.

In the future, as we better manage peak loads, add energy storage, and take advantage of Smart Grid applications, aging coal-fired power plants will be increasingly unneeded. With the rapid rise in delivered coal prices, air pollution problems and their heavy water use, older coal-fired power plants are already a growing burden on Nebraska utilities and their customer-owners.

Starting with the oldest and dirtiest power plants first, Nebraska can plan for, phase out and close power plants that are no longer needed. That would allow time for transition planning to help employees and communities deal with the changes.

Most of Nebraska’s power-plants were built before modern pollution control technologies were available, so they emit many times the level of harmful pollutants like mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, soot and heavy metals compared to newer power plants.

As those older power plants are closed, Nebraskans could breathe easier because the few coal-fired power plants that would remain have modern pollution control systems which substantially reduce pollutants like mercury, sulfur dioxide, soot and others linked to health problems in people.

Nebraska’s Clean Energy Future

Nebraska boasts a variety of affordable, readily available clean energy options that can transform our electric utility system, provide new jobs and investment, and power Nebraska’s economy into a clean energy future. Nebraska is a 100-percent public power state, so the benefits of a well-planned transition to 100-percent clean energy will accrue to all the residents of Nebraska.

As we have outlined in this Husker Power Plan, with the right mix of energy efficiency, wind, solar and other clean energy options, Nebraska can move away from dirty fossil fuels like coal, providing enormous health benefits to our residents.

We can lock in a clean energy future with electricity that is affordable, prices that are predictable, and energy produced largely within our borders. We can save Nebraska businesses and residents hundreds of millions of dollars every year in energy costs. The environmental and health benefits would be even larger than the other economic benefits.

With our Husker Power Plan, we can give ourselves a clean energy future, and leave our children and their children a more efficient and effective economy and a better world.

The Husker Power Plan has been endorsed by the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Farmers Union, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Nebraska 350.org, Nebraskans for Peace and the League of Women Voters of Nebraska.

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