LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Nebraska Public Power District must open its books and disclose specific cost information, including the expense of generating electricity from its individual power plants.
NPPD had declined to disclose such detailed information, arguing that doing so amounted to revealing trade secrets that would allow others bidding on power contracts to undercut bids by the public power utility. NPPD also maintained that there was no public purpose served by releasing the details of its power-generating costs.
But the Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Judge William Cassel, disagreed.
“Although (NPPD) demonstrated that releasing the information requested would give an advantage to its competitors, it failed to establish that the information would serve no public purpose,” the judge wrote. “The law as framed required it to prove both elements.”
A private company that seeks to compete with NPPD, Lincoln-based energy firm Aksamit Resource Management, had filed a lawsuit seeking the information from the public power firm. Aksamit argued that the information was public and that it would help the firm and Nebraska ratepayers better understand why NPPD’s costs were rising. Without the detailed information, the firm argued, the public could not determine why NPPD’s costs had risen.
Gary Aksamit, the company’s chief executive officer, has been critical of NPPD. A year ago, he said that his firm could provide electricity to Nebraskans “up to 30 percent cheaper than public power can.”
Nebraska is unique in that it is the only state in the nation where all the electric utilities are publicly owned.
Efforts to allow private utilities to compete have failed over the years as public utilities, including OPPD, have argued that they can provide power less expensively than for-profit companies. But some private companies, like Aksamit, contend that allowing private generators to compete would give customers more choices and reduce costs.
Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overturns a decision by Platte County District Judge Robert Steinke, who said compelling NPPD to release such cost details created “an unlevel field for competition” that worked against the public interest.
While releasing such data might give competitors an advantage, the court ruled that NPPD had failed to prove a lack of public purpose in revealing such information.