NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN — After the Omaha Public Power District passed a controversial rate restructuring plan, a state senator is calling on a legislative committee to study Nebraska's public power rate-making process.

Malcolm State Sen. Ken Haar's proposal as introduced would make public electric utility rate increases subject to review by the Public Service Commission.

The term-limited senator said Tuesday that Legislative Bill 1068 is going nowhere this year, as the remaining days of the short session dwindle. The bill is not among the number of designated priorities.

Still, he told members of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee that the topic is worth studying over the summer.

"I think it would strengthen the public power system and give customers more confidence in the rate-making process," he said.

Supporters, including a number of customers, testified at the hearing to express frustration over OPPD's plan, which they criticized for unfairly harming low-income and lowuse customers.

But opponents lined up, too, arguing that Haar's bill as introduced would strip local control from the utility boards and move too far from Nebraska' original intent for public power.

Under the original bill, the Public Service Commission would review rate increases if enough customers filed a petition.

The commission also would review any proposals to increase rates by more than 2 percent, plus create a "customer advocate" position to help give ratepayers a voice in the review process.

Chris Dibbern, general counsel for the Nebraska Municipal Power Pool, presented 50 concerns with the bill, saying that the proposal is "totally wrong" for a public power state.

Shelley Sahling-Zart, a vice president and general counsel for the Lincoln Electric System, called the bill an "unnecessary erosion" of local control.

The LES administrative board, she said, is appointed by the Lincoln mayor and confirmed by the City Council, which has the final authority for the budgeting and rate restructuring.

But Haar said the state's electric rates have increased more than most other states in the region in a decade, and have been among the largest increases in the U.S.

"None of this is personal," he said. "It's about policy."

Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, emily.nohr@owh.com

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