LINCOLN–Sens. Ken Haar of Malcolm and Tyson Larson of O’Neill heard testimony Wednesday from leaders from around the state calling for a response to the growing threat of climate change and an increase in energy from renewable resources.
Power in Nebraska is entirely public, controlled by public power districts like Omaha Public Power District, Nebraska Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System.
“Public power is the shining star of Nebraska’s economy,” Michael Shonka of Nebraskans For Solar at the legislative hearing.
The efforts of the public power companies were praised by several who testified. LES in particular generates more than half its power from renewable sources, while OPPD has committed to generating more than 30 percent from renewable sources.
Shonka, among others, called for power companies, lawmakers and all Nebraskans to make a greater push toward renewable energy sources.
Graham Christensen of GC Resolve, a Nebraska company that supports renewable resource development especially in rural areas, said renewable energy should became a “new crop” for rural Nebraskans.
“The impact of technology has always substantially changed the way we farm,” said John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union.
“We can be farming the sun,” Haar said.
Larson also said embracing renewable energy will lead to economic development in rural areas of the state.
Several people testified that the effects of pollution are already hurting farmers and rural communities. Duane Hovorka of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation said pollution is a burden on the economy because it hurts crops and harms human health.
“I can see what the future should be like in Nebraska,” Hovorka said. “And we have to do more to reach that.”
A concern raised by several witnesses that could affect renewable energy is the decentralization of the electrical grid.
According to the testimony from Craig Moody of the Verdis Group, an environmental consulting firm in Omaha, the electrical grid is centralized because most of the power comes from a small number of large-scale facilities, mainly coal power plants. Rapid decentralization of the power grid could lead to issues that hinder the development of renewable energy sources.
“The grid is not currently built to handle decentralized power,” Moody said.
Moody suggested new battery technologies could make it possible to become less dependent on the grid.
Shonka said battery technology could eventually make it possible to completely disconnect from the nation’s power grid, but he also said the grid is too important for Nebraskans to abandon it completely.
A group of students and faculty from Omaha North High School were at the hearing and a student, Gabriel Runyon, testified.
Runyon said committing to renewable resources and stopping the effects of climate change were important to his generation.
Haar thanked him for testifying, and said that more young people should speak out, because elected officials would listen.