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At Nebraska Public Power District, we take serious pride in serving Nebraskans. Company loyalty runs deep. We are true blue to Nebraska’s own “Big Blue”, our corporate logo color. So if anyone asked me which is the best public utility in Nebraska, I could only reply, “NPPD, of course!”

But Nebraska has a number of outstanding utilities, and I consider Lincoln Electric System (LES) to be a leader in several ways. Their focus on the future is exemplary. Reliable, efficient systems aren’t built overnight, and utilities are notorious for moving at glacial speed. But LES is taking steady, measured steps to assure the long-term health of their system, from the perspectives of managing both rates and environmental impact. (By contrast, I believe utilities that have failed to take advantage of recent record low pricing for renewable energy will look back with regret at opportunities lost. I would be happy to be proved wrong by history on this count someday.)

Recently, LES has been the subject of criticism that they are not supporting development of wind in Nebraska, by contracting with out-of-state providers. They recently have entered long-term power purchase agreements with wind farms in Oklahoma and in Kansas. To learn about the factors and process that went in to the selection of these wind farm contracts, you can watch a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWl6w4mciIg.

With the expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit, Nebraska may well have seen a peak in wind farm construction for the near future. I feel we could have done much more to develop this resource and build a legacy that would appeal to young families looking for a place to call home. Still, I think it is unfair to single out one utility (especially that one which has stretched our collective commitment to renewable resources) for this failure.

It is not currently the responsibility of a municipal utility to provide economic development benefits to other communities. Certainly, as a Nebraskan, I wish for us to be a pool where a rising tide would raise all boats. Given the multitude of utilities (167, to be exact) across the state, creating that reality could be heaving lifting indeed. But this is only one example of why it is well past time to examine—carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly—the state of the state in this regard.

I am very supportive of LB 583 to conduct a state energy plan, introduced by Senator Ken Schilz of Ogallala and cosponsored by Senators Kowalski, Mello, Nordquist and Pansing Brooks. I am impressed by the bi-partisan collaboration in drafting the bill and optimistic that with the chairs of two key legislative committees represented (Natural Resources and Appropriations), the subject will be given the deep consideration such a broad and complicated topic deserves. I am also encouraged by Govenor Pete Ricketts’ appointment of David Bracht to head the Nebraska Energy Office. Bracht, an attorney with significant experience in renewable energy development in the investor-owned world, can bring technical insight and vigor to the planning process.

To those who wish to reap maximum benefit from our unique universe of exclusively public power, I suggest we have never had a better time to commit to a comprehensive state energy plan. We have too much to gain to continue to operate as blind folks hugging an elephant—each proposing a solution for the small feature of the beast each individual can perceive. We have too much to lose to be less than systematic in our planning.

---Mary Harding is a seventh-generation Nebraskan who lives in Milford with her husband. She was first elected to the Nebraska Public Power District Board in 2002, and is currently serving her third term. She can be reached at maryhardingfornppd@gmail.com.

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