‘Utterly unacceptable’: Ricketts critical of need for rolling power outages

State officials also rolled out online calculator for new property tax credit
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 9:39 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - During his update on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday morning, Gov. Pete Ricketts was repeatedly vocal about the need for rolling blackouts that Nebraskans were forced to endure this week during very cold days.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Ricketts also repeatedly criticized the handling of the power crisis that led to three days of rolling blackouts in the state. The governor blamed reliance on renewable energy, which has been a topic of misleading information spreading on social media.

“My take on what we’ve seen is that we have great reliability with coal and nuclear,” he said. “In fact, our Gerald Gentleman plant is providing 50% of our state’s energy, and that is a source that is not intermittent, and you can store the energy on-site — same thing with nuclear.”

Ricketts expressed his appreciation for utility workers in Nebraska and their efforts in keeping power going while the power companies were handling the rolling outages, but said the need for random temporary blackouts was “completely unacceptable.”

“This is the United States of America. We are not some developing nation that has an unreliable power grid,” he said. “We have to have a conversation in this country about the power sources that are supplying energy to our power grid because we cannot have these rolling blackouts at a time when we have these frigid temperatures.”

While doubling-down on his criticisms, the governor did acknowledge the state needed to improve natural gas pipelines.

“We have other sources like wind power that cannot be stored, or natural gas that you can’t store,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve experienced with this cold weather is those natural gas pipelines freezing up; so apparently, we need better infrastructure for that. And if we are too reliant on those sources, then we’re going to see these rolling blackouts.”

However, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates that state’s power grid, said failures in natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels.

Ricketts said Nebraska still does need to be a part of the Southwest Power Pool, but that he plans to work with state senators and other governors, and talk to power executives, about how to move forward so these sorts of outage requirements don’t happen in the future.

Nebraska COVID-19 response update

Ricketts shared the latest hospitalization data for the state, noting that COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state were down to 185. In Nebraska, 37% of hospital beds, 39% of ICU beds, and 79% of ventilators were available. The governor noted that current availability was about the same as the levels reported in September.

Promising more information about the COVID-19 vaccine in Nebraska at his 9 a.m. Thursday news conference, Ricketts said Wednesday that the state has received 303,000 vaccine doses so far. He has instructed that 90% of those vaccinations go to Nebraskans age 65 and older since the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the state have occurred within this population, he said. Local health departments have been able to allocate the remaining 10% to other priority groups within Phase 1B.

During his news conference Wednesday, the governor walked through an explanation of the state’s Phase 1B prioritization and also praised Douglas County Health Department Director Dr. Adi Pour’s actions following the 90/10 approach.

Ricketts also explained why some nursing homes and assisted living aren’t allowing visitations despite many in that population receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations, saying many were run by national companies and instituting their own visitation policies, which are often tied to positivity rates. He said the state would be reviewing the requirement for assisted living facilities to have 90% of residents and staff fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before allowing visitations to resume.

Dannette Smith, CEO of the state department of Health and Human Services, also gave an update Wednesday on vaccinations in Nebraska on the DHHS Facebook page while encouraging all eligible populations — and minorities in particular — to get signed up for the vaccination. She also encouraged those needing assistance with that process to reach out to the department via the helplines at 531-249-1873 or toll-free at 1-833-998-2275.

In the latest in a scheduled series of Facebook Live sessions addressing COVID-19 vaccination topics, DHHS CEO Dannette R. Smith and Bryan Heart cardiologist and electrophysiologist Robert L. Percell, MD, discuss COVID-19 vaccination strategy, staying heart healthy and Black History Month.

Posted by Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Online tool helps calculate new tax credit

State officials also announced a new online property tax tool to help Nebraskans as they work on their tax preparations this year. The tool helps residents calculate the new refundable income tax credit available this year that allows taxpayers to claim a portion of the school district taxes they paid.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

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