Today, I’m pleased to welcome Nebraska Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue to this joint blog where we will discuss the power of the state’s agriculture and public power sectors working together to benefit Nebraskans. Please enjoy our conversation, which ranges in topic from the unique opportunities our collaboration can provide our customers to how we are working together to identify and implement large-scale carbon reduction strategies.
Mark: Nebraska Farm Bureau’s vision is to achieve a great quality of life and prosperity for Nebraska farm and ranch families. Aspiring toward a better quality of life for Nebraskans is also in NPPD’s vision. To do so successfully requires a consumer-focused approach, and one focused on cost competitiveness. For farmers and ranchers, many consumers want to learn more about the food they eat and make sure it is sustainably produced. NPPD’s customers increasingly want access to sustainable energy. As a significant energy consumer, Nebraska’s farm and ranch families look forward to working with NPPD to ensure sustainability and cost competitiveness remain top priorities.
Tom: Mark – similarly to how your consumers want to know how their food is being grown, our customers want to know where their electricity is coming from, and they want to be increasingly involved in how they use it. You’re right that many customers are asking for more sustainable energy sources, and our several retail community solar projects currently on-line or in the works are a testament to one way we are providing that solution. Energy efficiency is also a big part of it. Nebraska is a heavily irrigated state, and many of our customers are ag producers. NPPD’s Demand Waiver Program is a beneficial service in which we incentivize ag producers to limit irrigation during high load days in the summer. This allows producers to benefit from lower cost irrigation, and it has prevented us from building a 600-megawatt power plant to cover the electric demand they successfully avoid through program participation. Just as the Farm Bureau strives to protect and support farmers and ranchers, NPPD is committed to generating safe, reliable and affordable electricity and providing exceptional customer service. Like your organization, our customers come first.
Mark: Farmers and ranchers have been at the forefront of supporting a more diverse and sustainable list of energy sources. From ethanol and advanced biofuels, to wind, solar, nuclear, and any other new energy production technology still on the drawing board, Nebraska Farm Bureau has long-supported an all-of-the-above approach to energy production. In terms of new technologies, and particularly the creation of a Midcontinent Clean Hydrogen Hub (MCH2) (see Editor’s Note below), agriculture will play an increasingly important role in further developing new clean fuels. It’s quite a holistic, cyclical process in which multiple industries will find mutual opportunities to advance economic growth in the state together while satisfying diverse customer needs. The various industry sectors involved rely quite expansively on each other to create this full-functioning hydrogen-centered ecosystem. Though complex, it’s an ecosystem reliant on NPPD’s steadily low-cost electricity and pursuit of low carbon generating resources.
Tom: MCH2 is a great example. NPPD is also exploring decarbonization through many other collaborative efforts. We’re working with Ethos Connected (formerly Paige Wireless) as they identify applications for precision agriculture by using their LoRaWAN network to gather real-time data that can be used to help producers use precisely what they need, saving them money on inputs and allowing them to be even better stewards of important natural resources. Each year, we provide seed funding to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research which explores opportunities for new and alternative fuels. And finally, we’re exploring the use of corn stover as fuel at our coal-fired Gerald Gentleman Station and Sheldon Station plants.
Mark: It’s easy to get lost in the many catchphrases and popular nomenclature that surrounds sustainability, carbon reduction practices, climate change, etc. Regardless, it’s important for everyone to see the opportunities that exist in this space. Considering diverse opinions and alternative solutions helps us find the best overall way forward in achieving long-term goals and benefits. The path we take will look different and affect all of us differently, but we’re in this together. Continuing this conversation across industries and communities is essential.
Tom: We’re having those same conversations with our customers, Mark – some feel our carbon reduction/sustainability goals are appropriate, while others think it’s too much, or even not enough. Understanding the need and the “why” is absolutely critical as well as recognizing the substantial future economic and generation opportunities it provides. Transparency and communication are key. NPPD is having conversations with many industries, as well as our customers and the general public, on how we might diversify our own generation mix in a way that adds value while still preserving the foundations of public power: affordability and reliability.
Mark: My goal as president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau is to approach future opportunities holistically as partners. The more we collaborate, the better. I am grateful for public power in the state. Our public power providers understand agriculture, rural development, and focusing on the consumer. They’re also great stewards of our natural resources, which gives us a clear advantage over surrounding states.
Tom: In the case of the regional hydrogen hub, Nebraska has a unique opportunity to strengthen food security as we evolve our agricultural practices in a way that helps us better feed the state and the world. As we identify new projects to support these efforts, it will create good, well-paying jobs for Nebraskans. Finally, pursuing cleaner generation resources while still ensuring affordable, 24-7 electricity for customers will help Nebraskans continue to enjoy the Good Life for generations to come.
Mark: Agriculture is the number one industry in our state, and the largest segment of that industry is livestock production. Unfortunately, even as large as our livestock sector is, Nebraska is falling behind many of our neighbors in dairy production. Our dairy sector requires around-the-clock energy. It also takes substantial energy to refine distillers grains to create a dense protein product for the pet food sector that adds value through nutrition. Very little of what we do happens without electricity. In addition, NPPD plays a significant role behind the scenes, from an economic and community development perspective, in keeping our rural communities moving forward and vibrant. As we look toward future growth and progress, we will find success if public power stays a cost-effective, reliable and resilient partner.
Tom: NPPD is proud to power ag operations across the state, and we take that responsibility seriously. We work every day to provide ag producers with ways to save energy though energy efficiency and beneficial electrification programs, as well as ways to benefit from innovation as we explore collaborative precision agriculture applications. We are also exploring mutually beneficial opportunities for ag producers to find value within our regional energy market through demand response. We are always looking for ways to create opportunity in the state. And, of course, we regularly promote and educate others about safety around power lines, especially during planting and harvest seasons.
Editor’s Note: The Mid-Continent Clean Hydrogen Hub (MCH2), will bring together many industries – ag, public power, manufacturing and transportation – to accelerate use of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier in the region. It will demonstrate many useful applications for the production, processing, delivery, storage and end-use of hydrogen. Learn more about the Mid-Continent Clean Hydrogen Hub.