Energy Office Transition

It’s worth noting that recently the Legislature unanimously voted (LB 302, 45-0-4) to merge the Nebraska Energy Office (NEO) into the Department of Environmental Quality.

The bill, introduced at the request of Governor Ricketts, would rename the agency the Department of Environment and Energy.

It’s not the first transition for the energy office which was begun in 1977 in response to the Middle East oil embargoes of the time. In 1987 Gov. Kay Orr annexed it into her Policy Research Office until 1991 when Gov. Ben Nelson moved it back to an independent agency. This lasted until the next Governor, Mike Johanns. arrived and again made it a part of his cabinet in the Policy Research Office. Finally in 2008 under Gov. Heineman it was changed back to an independent code agency. While the NEO still has its own website ( and maybe after the merger but who knows?) there’s an interesting graphic that charts this and the various directors of the agency which you can get to here .

The NEO has typically had little budget of its own and primarily works to administer federal funds and programs like low income weatherization efforts and low interest loans for energy efficiency projects, some 30,000 of them over its history. With its limited funding it also manages to collect state energy statistics, put on an annual solar and wind conference and recently began helping small communities improve the energy efficiency of their wastewater treatment plants -this latter with help from a federal grant the office secured.

It’s not automatically clear whether this merger will help or hinder the cause of clean energy in Nebraska. It seems to have been presented as a typical case of business efficiencies when you read the testimony at the bill’s public hearing.

Maybe because its budget is about 98% federal funds the merger won’t make that much difference. It is staying as part of an independent agency, as opposed to the Orr and Johanns years. Perhaps its’s a development that’s worth noting and monitoring as the transition to a clean energy economy slowly moves forward . It’s certainly worth checking out their website before the merger and seeing what’s presented afterwards.

Maybe the real question isn’t just will it maintain its current size and funding and programs within the DEQ. As helpful as the NEOs work is, the status quo is really not enough. The real question is how much and how quickly can state energy policy & practice evolve to speed us toward a clean energy future before climate change wreaks even more havoc like the recent flooding? And of course that would have been true merger or not.