Tri-Cities aim to lower carbon emissions pending lawsuit in Supreme Court

Published: Mar. 15, 2016 at 6:23 PM CDT
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For the last year, the Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to enact regulations called the Clean Power Plan, which would require states to lower carbon emissions, and some cities within central Nebraska are working toward lowering their carbon footprint before that plan gets out of the Supreme Court.

For Nebraska, the Clean Power Plan would require cities to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent.

"The EPA has introduced regulations that reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, or greenhouse gases," Grand Island's utilities director Tim Luchsinger said.

For many in the state, 40 percent is outrageous since much of the state depends on coal for energy purposes. It's this disappointment that has led the state to attempt to kill the plan by pushing it into the United States Supreme Court.

However, some cities like Grand Island are being proactive since they foresee the plan being approved.

"The reason we're using so much coal is coal is the cheapest fuel source," Luchsinger said. "We're very reliant on coal right now, all the utilities are. We're going to be doing more switches to natural gases or renewables on a statewide basis."

In Grand Island, 95 percent of energy generation comes from coal, and in Hastings, it's 85 to 88 percent.

The Nebraska Public Power District supplies energy to Kearney, and they get about 58 percent of its electricity from coal.

To lower the carbon emissions that would be required from through the EPA, it would mean cities would need to reduce the amount of coal they burn, which would in turn increase electricity prices.

"The pressures on electric rates in Nebraska will be stronger than in some areas of the country, and those pressures will be to increase the cost," customer relations coordinator at Hastings Utilities Steve Cogley said.

However, cities are already looking for energy elsewhere.

"We have a purchase power contract with the Western Area Power Administration out of South Dakota, where we purchase hydroelectric power," Cogley said.

"We've been looking at wind farms that are ideally located at locations in the state where you really do see more bang for your buck based on generation for the wind," Luchsinger said.

While Hastings has been using hydroelectric power, Cogley said it's not in response to the Clean Power Plan. He said they city has used what it purchased in dams on the Missouri River, but it is by far the cheapest source of electricity it can receive.

If the Clean Power Plan is approved, increases in electricity bills won't be seen for several years down the line.

"I'm a customer just like anyone else, and I don't want to see things have an impact on what I do either," Luchsinger said. "I think you're probably going to look at more of a five or ten year time period that we do this phasing in."

NPPD plans to cut carbon emissions by four percent by 2020. As part of that plan, they will convert one generating station near Lincoln to burning hydrogen. That hydrogen will be a byproduct of a manufacturing process used at a nearby plant. The hydrogen will be pumped by the plant to the generating station, where it will be burned to produce electricity. The byproduct of burning hydrogen is water vapor.