An important part of preparing for the future is making smart investments. We make budgets, pick-and-choose what we’ll spend our money on, and buy locally to keep those dollars in our community. Even when it comes to something like the energy we use, it’s important to make smart choices about how we purchase and use power, especially in a public power state like Nebraska where ratepayers are also the owners of our electric utilities.

In December, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) approved $114,806 in raises for executive staff, with $35,250 going to its CEO. While NPPD has worked to keep their wages competitive with larger utilities, the same can’t be said for the way they generate the power they supply to Nebraskans or how they help Nebraskans save money.

So what’s missing from Nebraska’s biggest utility? Two things that separate us from our neighbors are renewable energy and energy efficiency. Utilities in neighboring states have taken advantage of opportunities to invest in renewable energy that is now providing cheaper and home-grown electricity to customers.

Investing in local renewable energy would keep more of our dollars in Nebraska, instead of sending our hard-earned money to other states in exchange for coal and the pollution it causes. Our incredible wind resource is not only beneficial to Nebraskans, but regionally as well. Nebraska is already part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) electricity market, where wind power saved electricity customers $1.2 billion in 2013.

On top of that, many power providers have begun giving their customers the tools they need to use less electricity by increasing their energy efficiency. Increased energy efficiency would help NPPD to draw down their reliance on costly fossil fuels and begin transitioning to the vast renewable energy resources found in our state. It also has the best bang for our buck among energy options, with each dollar invested in energy efficiency yielding up to $4 in return.

NPPD won’t be able to tout Nebraska’s low energy rates much longer without shifting away from imported fossil fuels and investing instead in local renewable energy and the tools to make our homes and business energy efficient. We have to take a hard look at the real benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency, including the money they save.

It’s time to ask, are we using our money wisely? Are we making sounds investments that are beneficial both in the near and long term? It’s time for NPPD to become competitive with other utilities by dedicating funding to renewable energy and assisting all customers in improving their energy efficiency.

Lauren Kolojejchick-Kotch is the energy and climate organizing fellow for the Center for Rural Affairs.