Nebraska is vulnerable to increasing heat, drought, and severe storms which threaten agricultural and economic productivity and human health
Nebraska’s climate is already changing. In the past century, most of the state has warmed by at least one degree Fahrenheit. Rainstorms are becoming more intense, and annual rainfall is increasing. In the future, Nebraska can expect increasingly hot summers, which can negatively impact yields for some crops while extending the growing seasons for others.
- Increasing heat: Extreme heat will increase in the Great Plains region. Days where the maximum temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the Northern Plains are projected to double by mid-century. Rising temperatures, persistent drought and aquifer depletion could threaten the long-term sustainability of the great plains. Still, while the southern plains will see crop losses, Nebraska could see gains in crop yields according to a Risky Business report, though this will depend on a number of factors, including water availability. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln study found that climate change is leading to a shrinking winter, longer frost-free season and faster warming at night — all of which are hidden stressors to livestock, crops and ecosystems.
- Water availability: Climate change is likely to increase the demand for water while making it less available. Higher temperatures will increase evaporation and dry soils, streams and rivers, threatening the viability and productivity of some agricultural and pasture land. Drought is a critical issue for Nebraska as witnessed during 2012 when the agricultural industry suffered millions of dollars of crop losses.
- Increased flooding risk due to storms: Although summer droughts are likely to become more severe, floods may also intensify. During the last 50 years, the amount of rain falling during the wettest four days of the year has increased about 15 percent in the Great Plains. River levels during floods have become higher in eastern Nebraska. Over the next several decades, heavy downpours will account for an increasing fraction of all precipitation, and average precipitation during winter and spring is likely to increase. Both of these factors would further increase flooding. Excessive rainfall could lead to a repeat of the 2011 record rain that led to the flooding of the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant located along the Missouri River.
- Adaptation: Nebraska has not developed a climate adaptation plan.
Nebraska residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 64% of Nebraska residents recognize that global warming is happening. The Project finds that 70% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 81% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
Nebraska is a national leader in wind
- Wind: Nebraska is one of the top states in the country for potential wind generation and can help the state meet its renewable energy goals while also creating economic development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that more than 90% of Nebraska has suitable conditions for commercial-scale wind-powered electricity generation. Currently Nebraska ranks 18th in the nation for wind generation, with 1,328 MW of capacity installed. That’s enough to power over 350,000 homes.
- Biomass: Nebraska ranked second in the nation, after Iowa, in corn-based ethanol production capacity in 2016.
- Electricity generation: Nebraska has obtained about three-fifths of its net electricity generation from coal and about one-fourth from nuclear power, but one of its two nuclear plants was shut permanently in late 2016.
- Energy consumption: Nebraska is among the top 10 states in per capita energy consumption because of its energy-intensive industrial sector, led by food processing, chemical manufacturing, and agriculture. Farm irrigation is electricity-intensive and seasonal; it entails high costs for electricity that increase the average reported cost of electricity for Nebraska’s industrial sector.
- Renewable Portfolio Standard: Nebraska does not have a renewable portfolio standard or goal set in place to require utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. In 2015 however, Nebraska obtained more than 10% of its total net electricity generation from renewables, and wind supplied almost three-fourths of the renewable generation.