The Omaha Public Power District board on Thursday unanimously approved the district’s second-highest rate hike in 10 straight years of increases.
District officials said the 6.9 percent increase is needed largely because of the costly restart work at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. That includes OPPD’s contract with Exelon, the company it hired this year to manage the facility.
The new rate plan includes a residential rate increase of 7.7 percent, which represents an average increase of $7.30 per month.
Industrial customers’ bills will increase by 8.5 percent, while commercial rates will go up 5 percent.
Edward Easterlin, OPPD vice president and chief financial officer, said the district has tried to minimize the added burden on ratepayers. It has taken money out of a savings account and spread out the Fort Calhoun restart costs, among other cost-saving measures.
Board member Mike Cavanaugh said he knows the rate changes won’t be good news for customers but said making other cuts to prevent rate hikes could have put the district’s bond rating in jeopardy.
“We have looked critically and hard at the operating rate plan, about ways we could possibly reduce the increase, tighten our belts, reduce spending,” he said. “I’m confident that this is as lean as we should go.”
Several ratepayers, some of them members of taxpayer and environmental groups, told the district the higher rates were an unfair burden. They said the district had failed to properly manage Fort Calhoun and argued that the selection of Exelon happened without enough notice.
Board member John Green said the district expects to save money over the next 20 years with Exelon’s management help. But he acknowledged that the current costs are significant.
“Right now, while it’s down, yes, it costs money to manage and operate and repair a plant that is not operating,” he said.
Meanwhile, the board approved a plan to buy power from a new 200-megawatt wind farm near Elgin, Neb.
The Prairie Breeze Wind Farm will be the largest wind production facility used by OPPD and will nearly double its wind power production capacity.
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