All posts by Mark Zimmermann

Earth Days, OPPD

Earth Day weekend coincides with Easter weekend this year and it appears that Lincoln and Omaha have scheduled their Earth Day events for the weekends before and after. Omaha is up first on April 13 in Elmwood Park with details at http://earthdayomaha.org/ Lincoln follows on April 27th from 10 am to 3 pm at Union Plaza on UNL campus. More info is at http://Lincoln Earth Day website .

“The Path Forward” is the title of a talk to be given by Craig Moody, one of the clean energy majority on the OPPD Board of Directors. He will be discussing the Board’s plans for implementation of renewables at OPPD. The event is free and open to the public and will take place at the Barbara Weitz Engagement Center, Room 205, on the UNO campus on Tuesday April 30th at 7:00 pm.

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.

Nebraska Climate Summit

The Nebraska State Climate Office and Nebraska Extension are holding a climate summit to discuss results from the 4th National Climate Assessment (released last fall) and its impact on our state. The event will take place on Thursday March 21st from 8:30 am to 5 pm at the UNL Innovation Campus 2021 Transformation Drive in Lincoln.

According to the climate office press release topics will include:

  • Highlights of climate projections and impacts from the NCA4 (includes a panel discussion);
  • The future of climate and expected affects for Nebraskans;
  • Weather and climate monitoring;
  • Climate scenario planning by Nebraska Extension;
  • Climate and agriculture;
  • Climate and health; and
  • Climate and municipalities.

Because they are expecting a large attendance they are asking people to register for the event but there is no charge to attend. For more information and to register go to the Climate Office’s website https://nsco.unl.edu/summit-tackle-climate-nebraska-nebraskans

Next Meeting

The State Council of the Nebraska Green Party will meet on Sunday March 17th at 11 am. The meeting will be held at the Cultiva Coffeehouse located at 11th and G Streets in Lincoln. State Council meetings are held on the third Sunday of the month and rotate between Omaha and Lincoln. The meetings are open to the public.

Green Local Deal

Recently the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee had a hearing for LB 621, introduced by Omaha Senator Rick Kolowski.

LB 621 is a proposed solar access law which would prohibit home owners associations (HOAs) from banning solar projects in the neighborhoods or developments they control.

It’s worth noting that it adds language to the relevant statutes (66-901 to 66-914) emphasizing the “utmost importance” of encouraging not just wind and solar energy but their “distributed generation” which appears to be the first time that phrase would be mentioned in state law. For those of us who are interested not only in renewable energy but in energy democracy, that is a positive step.

The bill would amend 66-913 to give cities and counties some leeway in granting variances or waivers to local zoning and land use ordinances to encourage solar installation. It introduces the phrase “the right to direct sunlight “ in relation to allowing regulation of shading by neighboring property owners including the issuance of “solar access permits” for solar owners.

The heart of the bill prohibits covenants by HOAs from outright banning PV installations and prohibits them from assessing fees for solar installations (which might be used as an end run around the ban if the fees are so high they make it cost prohibitive.) The bill does not address the question of whether or to what extent HOAs can place restrictions on solar installations without banning them outright, such as in historic districts or by requiring placement away from the street side of a house. It does however give the solar owner/proposer standing to bring civil action if they feel the HOA is being unfair or misinterpreting the intent of the law.

Currently 25 states have some type of solar access law and federal laws have been proposed but not passed.

How Sen. Kolowski’s bill would compare to other state laws I’m not able to answer at this point but the language certainly seems encouraging.

If you have further information to share on this subject, email me markalanzimmermann@gmail.com and I’ll include it in future updates.

Unicam(era)

Addressing climate change does not seem to be much on the minds of the Legislature this year (after year). One exception will get a public hearing Monday February 11 when the legislature’s Executive Board hears testimony on Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks proposal LB 283.

283 would direct the University to develop a “ strategic action plan” to find ways of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change in the state. The plan, not to exceed more than $250 thousand, would be due 12/15/20. It would be funded through the Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive Fund. That fund comes primarily from tire and landfill fees and generates 3-4 million dollars annually. It gave out more than 4 million in grants to local communities in 2017 so it seems like it could afford this one time expense.

Coincidentally (or not) LB 367, which extends the Fund another 5 years, would prohibit the Legislature from transferring money out of that fund to the General Fund. Now maybe this can be read as protecting the recycling fund from Senators trying to balance the state budget. I don’t have info on whether it’s been raided before. But, it also might be used to prevent funding for 283 which would be harder to pass with a straight up appropriation by a tax fearing legislature. As bills are numbered chronologically 283 came first and so it is possible that that part of 367 is in response. Regardless, this appropriation is going to look like pretty small potatoes before very long if elected representatives at all levels don’t get serious about global warming today .

The hearing starts at noon in Room 1525 of the state capitol. If you can’t make it but want to express your thoughts you need to email them to the chair of the Executive Board, mhilgers@leg.ne.gov,  by 5pm Friday Feb 8th. If you do go and arrive right at noon you get the bonus of also hearing testimony on designating corn as the state vegetable.

Shut down tars sands, not our government

Of the 5 proposed pipelines to move tar sands sludge from Canada to refineries or export terminals, 2 have been shut down and 2 have been delayed and forced to start over (including Keystone XL last November).  That leave just the Enbridge Line 3 across Minnesota, which because it crosses numerous bodies of water needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.  For more background you can go here https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/expanding-the-line-3-tar-sands-pipeline-would-put-water-and-climate-at-risk/ 

The Corps began a 30 day comment period just before the holidays  ( of course ) so there is very little time to submit a comment but the folks at Greenpeace have streamlined the process.  You can submit a comment through their website https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/

 

 

Mixed Results In 2018

Although there weren’t many surprises in our recent election cycle usually there are none at all,  and so,  a brief look back through the settled dust.

Voter turnout: 696 thousand Nebraskans voted this time around out of a possible 1.2 million who are registered for a turnout of 57%.  While not as high as a presidential election year ( 2016 was 71%) it was still a solid increase over 2014’s 48 % rate. According to the Secretary of State website Republicans hold a statewide 48 – 31 percent advantage over Democrats in registered voters with 20% remaining or defaulting to independent or non-partisan as it is officially termed. Libertarians have .01 % and Greens are not currently recognized and need to petition again to get ballot status.

Money turnout: As usual more dollars turned out to vote than people.  Open Secrets (opensecrets.org) reports that a combined $12.3 million was raised for Nebraska’s House and Senate races this cycle, 56% by Republicans and 40% by Democrats. In the Senate race Republican Deb Fischer out-begged her opponent Jane Raybould by a 3-1 margin (about $6 million to $2 million) with some 90% of  Fischer’s money coming from PACs and what Open Secrets calls “large individual contributions”.  The Bacon vs Eastman race in the 2nd Congressional District was much closer with Bacon having the slight edge of 2.48 million to Eastman’s 2.35 million(which was raised with Eastman refusing PAC contributions). Bacon retained his seat by just 2 percentage points 51-49.

One other interesting note can be found at Open Secrets by going to the Nebraska page through their search box and clicking on the Donor menu. There you will find that TD Ameritrade , not the organization itself but its owners (Ricketts family) their employees and their PACs, spent more than $3.7 million around the country (including Nebraska of course) just on congressional elections. This is 10 times what the next highest donor spent and about as much as the rest of the top 20 donors in Nebraska combined.

Results: As expected most incumbents at the state level were reelected, Bacon by just 6500 votes, Fortenberry and Smith by remaining invisible. In broad terms the 20% who are non-partisans split evenly enough that Democrats could not overcome the registration advantage held by Republicans. What was a slight surprise is that Initiative 427, to expand Medicaid to some of the working poor, won by 6-7 points mostly on the strength of urban and suburban voters. And while pipeline and climate activists came just short of “flipping” the Public Service Commission to a more progressive makeup, a real clean energy advocate, Eric Williams was elected to the OPPD Board.

Looking ahead: After 3 terms as Secretary of State, John Gale is stepping aside and his elected replacement,  Bob Evnen, has declared support for more stringent voter ID laws so we need to keep a lookout in that direction.   Even though the Democrats picked up a couple seats in the state legislature it remains solidly Republican and only nominally non-partisan.

November 6th is Closer Than You Think

Election Day is speeding toward us and whether that fills you with anticipation or dread or both we need to remember the basics. Since you’re here on the Nebraska Greens website most of this may be old news but a reminder or a how-to for friends and relatives is often helpful.

Until we pass some form of universal voter registration (a topic for another column) you still have to register to vote if you have never done so before or if you have changed your name, address or party affiliation. You can do this a number of ways: in person at your county election office; online at the Nebraska Secretary of State website https://www.nebraska.gov/apps-sos-voter-registration/  ; at the DMV office when you get or renew a drivers license; or at Dept. of Health and Human Services or the Dept. of Education when you register for programs with those departments. The registration deadline this year is Friday October 19th for all of these methods except registering at your county election office which is Friday October 26th.

And until we make Election Day a federal holiday (also another interesting discussion) many of us may need to vote early or by mail. You can vote early in person at your county election office through the end of business hours the day before the election. If you prefer to have your early/absentee ballot mailed to you, you need to request it from the county election office by October 19th.  Go to http://www.sos.ne.gov/elec/clerks.html to find information on your county election office. It can be returned in person or by mail anytime before 8pm on Election Day.

Finally, if you aren’t sure where to vote – perhaps you have moved or you lost the little card the election office sent you – you can also go to the look-up page at the Sec. of State site https://www.votercheck.necvr.ne.gov/VoterView/ If you are registered and feel you are in the right place but still run into a challenge at your polling place remember you can ask for a provisional ballot.