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Debate over energy policy in the United States has reached its pinnacle in recent years. Among the key issues that have pushed energy into the spotlight is concern over foreign oil dependence, competition for scarce resources from growing economies, and a mounting scientific and popular consensus that global climate change is a serious challenge of irreversible proportion.
The planet’s population is increasing, living longer, and in fast developing economies like China and India—getting wealthier—a combination of forces leading to both greater consumption of energy and increased production of greenhouse gases. Finding clean, alternative energy sources has thus become a critical issue. Yet the country remains dependent on traditional fossil fuels—in 2006 only 9.5% of electricity generated in the United States was from renewable energy sources. With much at stake, policymakers, scientists, and activists believe we are at a crossroads when it comes to making decisions about energy use and policy.
How does Nebraska fit into this global picture? Nebraska enjoys a relatively unique position in terms of energy use and future prospects. As a public power state, the cost of electricity in Nebraska is inexpensive—the state is ranked 46th in retail electricity costs—6.07 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to a national average of 8.9 cents. For many years, residents of the state have enjoyed cheap electricity. However, Nebraskans themselves tend to use a lot of energy. In 2004, the Energy Information Administration ranked Nebraska 18th in the nation in terms of per capita energy consumption. Like a lot of other states, the majority of Nebraska’s electricity is generated from traditional fossil fuels. Coal generated 58% of Nebraska’s electricity in 2006. The state’s two nuclear reactors produced another 35%.
Newer sources of energy have been making headway in Nebraska. As one of the nation’s top producers of corn, the corn-based ethanol industry has expanded rapidly in the state with government support, making Nebraska a leading producer and bringing with it high hopes for economic prosperity. As biofuel technology and innovation develop, other forms of biomass may become promising substitutes for traditional gasoline. Wind energy has also gained recent attention within Nebraska, and may become a boon for undeveloped rural areas. Finally, questions remain about the future role of nuclear power in an increasingly energy hungry world. Despite concerns about safety and waste storage, will nuclear power re-emerge as a viable substitute for fossil fuel-produced electricity?
Nebraska’s diverse energy potential offers promises and pitfalls. Energy will play a key role in the state’s commercial and economic development for years to come. How should Nebraska address these issues?