Omaha World-Herald: Jane Kleeb’s Nebraska group launches new clean energy model fueled by $3 million grant
Julie Anderson, July 2, 2024

“A Nebraska group that got its start organizing rural alliances to fight oil pipelines now is seeking to forge similar partnerships to catalyze renewable energy projects — and harvest the economic benefits that can come with them — in rural areas. The launch of the Bold Alliance’s new clean energy model is fueled by the $3 million Climate Breakthrough Award founder Jane Kleeb received in November,” the Omaha World-Herald reports.

“The international award will deliver $1 million a year distributed over at least three years. Kleeb said Bold also will seek to raise an additional $1 million a year, giving the clean energy initiative a $2 million annual budget. It will deploy the full model in four states — Nebraska, North Dakota, Illinois and Arizona — and help with smaller projects in others.

Kleeb said rural communities have been left out of the conversation about clean energy development. Years of misinformation have led to mistrust of such projects.

She acknowledged that not all members of rural communities will be excited about renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar. Some Nebraska counties already have placed strict zoning requirements on such projects.

“The question for us is: We need more energy in America. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is not looking at the projections,” Kleeb said. “So how do we make sure we go from 14% clean energy nationwide, where we’re currently at, to 33%, so we have a more balanced energy portfolio so coal, oil and gas can’t have our backs to the wall on price?”

One idea, she said, will be to help negotiate agreements that allow communities that host such projects to benefit beyond the construction jobs the projects create, the property tax dollars they feed into local coffers and the leases they pay to participating landowners.

If there’s the potential for an energy project to leave additional dollars in the community each year, Kleeb said, Bold would meet with residents to find out what they need. Maybe it’s funding to build a child care center and subsidize child care in the community or annual dividends for people who live in the project’s “viewshed,” like the dividends Alaska residents receive for oil drilling.

“We’re going to test out new things,” she said.

Bold’s role, she said, would be to try to help negotiate such agreements, working with energy companies, communities, county officials and opposition groups.

“We know you may not like it, but how do we come to an agreement that benefits everybody and puts more money in people’s pockets?” Kleeb said.

For rural communities, Kleeb said, clean energy offers a new economic path that can help them survive and grow and keep their young people.

“This is the big choice,” she said…

“Residents of those communities, she said, have a lot in common and would benefit if they unite. Energy could be one of the issues that bridges the gap between town and country. To that end, Bold in March hired State Sen. Terrell McKinney as its land justice director.

McKinney represents part of North Omaha in the Nebraska Legislature. He currently is seeking re-election to represent North Omaha’s District 11. He emerged from the May primary four votes ahead of former State Sen. Ernie Chambers, who previously held the seat until term limits required him to step down.

McKinney will meet with residents with the goal of trying to help groups in North Omaha who want to see the Omaha Public Power District finish converting its North Omaha power plant from coal to natural gas. Residents long have raised concerns about the health impact of emissions from the plant.

Burning coal at the North Omaha Station was supposed to have been completely phased out in 2023. But in 2022, the utility’s board voted to put off the conversion until at least 2026, in large part because it faced a regional backlog in getting the replacement power connected into the grid. OPPD officials have said they are committed to eliminating the burning of coal in North Omaha as soon as the replacement power is available, even in the face of the growing demand.

McKinney said he is just beginning to meet with groups that have been involved in the issue. “I don’t want to take over what they’re doing,” he said. “I just want to help them.”