The head of a Lincoln-based energy firm has asked judges to force three of Nebraska’s public power entities to show exactly how much it costs them to generate electricity.

On the other hand, officials at the three power entities say they shouldn’t have to. The Nebraska Public Power District and the Omaha Public Power District say the information amounts to trade secrets and may properly be shielded from public view. And the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska says it has provided sufficient information already; it deems some of the information it has withheld to be confidential, a spokeswoman said.

Gary Aksamit, chief executive of Lincoln-based energy firm Aksamit Resource Management, told The World-Herald that what he and his companies have requested is information that “all Nebraskans should be able to know.”

Aksamit on Friday filed a document asking judges in three Nebraska counties to compel the public power entities to disclose their costs of generating power. The next step is hearings, which are yet to be scheduled because not all parties have been formally served.

Ratepayers “should know the costs and revenues associated with their publicly owned and operated public power districts,” Aksamit said. “When we get this information, we plan to share it with all Nebraskans so they can better understand why their electric rates have increased so much in recent years.”

An NPPD spokesman based in Columbus said the utility would respond to Aksamit’s filing through legal channels but confirmed that the utility does consider the costs of generating power at its plants to be proprietary and confidential.

Chris Dibbern, general counsel for Lincoln-based MEAN, said her organization has already spent more than 100 hours compiling and submitting information to answer the request by Aksamit, whom the utility considers a competitor.

“We will be happy to answer questions in court,” she said.

A spokeswoman for OPPD said it is reviewing the filing and will decide “the best course of action and what we are legally required by law to provide.”

In his filing, Aksamit argues that public power entities may not claim exemption from Nebraska’s public records laws on the grounds of preserving confidential and competitive information. He stands to gain more than simple peace of mind if a judge rules in his favor: Late last year Aksamit Resource Management made public its proposal to build about 230 wind turbines across three wind farms in southeastern Nebraska. Those three projects in Saline, Thayer and Fillmore Counties would involve a total investment of $725 million.

Aksamit in recent years has publicly criticized Nebraska’s public power entities, which operate as political subdivisions of the state, taking them to task for what he calls a lack of legislative oversight and lack of accountability to ratepayers.

In February, he made that argument at a hearing of the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, saying that Aksamit subsidiary First Security Power “wants to offer Nebraskans electricity up to 30 percent cheaper than public power can.”

Lincoln Electric System, because it in the past has made public some figures that Aksamit wants, has complied with some of the requests first made in March, said Shelly Sahling-Zart, the utility’s general counsel.

On the other hand, OPPD, NPPD and MEAN, which provide electricity to 65 wholesale customers in Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado and Wyoming, generally have not published their electricity-generating costs for individual plants.

Because Nebraska is a public power state does not mean the utilities here are not competing against one another, Sahling-Zart said: LES and the three other utilities all are members of the Southwest Power Pool, a regional group whose members buy and sell energy.

“We’re in the market trying to get the best deals we can on behalf of our ratepayers,” Sahling-Zart said. “If we are essentially telling everyone what our prices are, they can undercut us in the (SPP) marketplace, and that would not be doing a service to our own ratepayers.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1534, cole.epley@owh.com

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