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Citizens Push Energy Boards for Clean, Local Power

Last month, OPPD held open houses to “engage customers on future projects.” But these open houses weren’t really a space for customers to get their opinions heard. Set up in a way that was geared more toward legitimizing the status quo than creating an open forum for ratepayers to tell OPPD what they would like to receive from their utility; these open houses weren’t symbolic of the relationship we should have with our public power provider.  We need our public power boards to fully listen to us. It seems as though the opportunities OPPD has given us to voice our opinions have been little more than an effort to pacify us, giving us the impression that our views are being taken into serious consideration, while their actions and conversations continue to revolve around how to maintain the viability and reputation of their coal plants and transition to natural gas.

I wrote a letter to OPPD’s board of directors last week (full text below) in which I said that I want to see more of my electricity sourced from renewables, and if it was necessary, I would be willing to pay more on my electric bill each month to see it happen. In the response I received, I was assured that OPPD is “well aware of the public’s desire to do more renewables” and they “are continually looking for opportunities to expand [their] renewable portfolio of energy.”  The letter continued in saying that OPPD is “evaluating the possibility of additional wind purchases in 2013,” with the caveat that “these projects [are] in the study phase at this point and may or may not come to fruition.” I hope that OPPD does in fact continue to expand their wind portfolio. However, my reaction to the letter is similar to my reaction to OPPD’s open houses. If we want to see more renewables, we are going to need to put much more pressure on the board members.

The letter implied that OPPD is doing enough already by having a total of 15% of its portfolio come from renewables, which according to OPPD is “at least on par with most areas of the country.” While OPPD may be above the national average, it certainly is not above the average in our wind-intensive region and it certainly is not raising the bar to allow us to meet our potential as a state. I was also disappointed that they seem to have a static view on investing in community-based energy development (C-BED). While they said they see its positives, they also said they probably won’t be pursuing it because it is not as price competitive as the larger projects. They clearly do not see all of the positives C-BED can bring to Nebraska communities. Fortunately, Senator Lydia Brasch also wrote a letter to the board of directors advocating for greater emphasis on community-based energy development, using her experience with the Burt County Wind Group’s wind project as a reference point for her support. Read the full text of her letter below.

I do believe OPPD is working to improve relationships with its customers. As with all elected positions, we need to hold the board accountable in order to actually see the change we want. We need to show them that we want local, clean energy. While I am critical of the way open houses have been held and the response I have received from my public power board, at least there is a forum for our voices to be heard. That is the most important aspect of the way we do energy in our state—we elect the people who decide where our electricity comes from. And as ratepayers, we should guide those decisions, we should be the ones to determine what we pay for. That is why it is so important for us to send in letters to the board demanding that OPPD (as well as NPPD and LES) truly do all that it can when it comes to renewables, because right now, it’s not. We can do much more in this state. Both Iowa and South Dakota get a quarter of their energy from renewables, and both have lower rates than we do. OPPD says that it is “well aware” of the support for renewables in this state. But it does not act with the awareness that 94% of Nebraskans want to see more wind. It’s time for the public to take public power back. Right now, you can submit your own letter to the Board of Directors. And next November, you can take public power back through the ballot box as we work to bring New Energy to the forefront again in 2014.

Senator Brasch’s OPPD Letter by chelseagarnet

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