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By Michael Matheson, Director for American for Electricity Choice Nebraska’s Legislature established public power in 1933 to provide electricity to rural parts of the state. All parts of Nebraska received electricity service by the early 1950s. The elect
- Published on Thursday, 23 March 2017 13:09
- Written by thenebraskasigna
By Michael Matheson, Director for American for Electricity Choice
Nebraska’s Legislature established public power in 1933 to provide electricity to rural parts of the state. All parts of Nebraska received electricity service by the early 1950s. The electricity industry has changed since public power electrified all areas of Nebraska. Today, in addition to providing electricity service, public power’s electricity generation plants now participate in a regional competitive electricity market. Electricity has become just another commodity.
The first thing to understand is that public power is a government program that mandates citizen participation. For this program to continue as it exists today, public power must maintain its complete monopoly and not permit Nebraskans to learn about options other than public power.
Public power districts and others opposing electricity retail choice (LB 660) in Nebraska continue to mislead Nebraskans about retail choice. Electricity itself is a commodity and the delivery of electricity (lines and wires) is a service. The business of selling electricity isn't tied to the delivery of electricity, similar to your Internet service. There are numerous Internet providers who use the same telephone or cable wire into your home.
The first false claim opponents of retail choice make is that it will destroy public power in Nebraska. The citizens of Nebraska will not notice any difference with their electricity service with retail choice. With retail choice, the customer selects their electricity provider. Retail choice would not change your local service provider or who makes repairs on your local service. Retail choice does not impact transmission or distribution service so rural public power districts and municipal electric districts will still provide the same service you have today. And you will still only pay one monthly bill just like you do now.
The second false claim is that public power provides local control and citizens would have no say with retail choice. Retail choice actually provides more local control, not less. With retail choice, if customers do not like their current energy provider, they can simply switch. This is much different than the 150 citizens who showed up to oppose OPPD’s large rate increase in 2015, and were ignored by the OPPD board. Those customers are still paying OPPD’s increase today. Citizens would also still maintain local control of their rural public power district with retail choice.
Today, public power has no oversight other than their elected boards that may have no deep knowledge of managing an electricity entity in today’s new marketplace. Every other level of Nebraska government has more oversight than public power. Public power can raise rates at will and borrow hundreds of millions of dollars with no oversight. With retail choice, the customer controls rates since the energy provider can be replaced and the transmission and distribution owners would be accountable to the Public Service Commission. In fact, last year, public power opposed legislation that would have provided more citizen control over public power rates (LB 1068).
Public power’s control over its message about how good it is for Nebraska is necessary to ensure that the citizens support it. Public Power spent millions of dollars over the years on public relations campaigns controlling the message to protect its monopoly. Public power uses advertising, monthly newsletters, and meets privately with regulators and government officials to distort the facts.
There is a reason that public power does not want to debate these issues in public, and that’s because it cannot control the message. It seems strange that public power, a government-run monopoly, would need to spend time and money on media campaigns and lobbyists, yet it continues to do so.
Now is the time to have an honest and open debate about public power without public power controlling the message. The citizens deserve to know the truth – instead of one point of view supplied by public power – before making an informed decision about retail choice. Citizens would benefit and Nebraska public power would be stronger with electricity retail choice.
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Michael Matheson is a director of Americans For Electricity Choice, a Nebraska-based non-profit organization promoting retail choice around the United States.