There is a concerning and peculiar odor emanating from Lincoln.
Sen. Dan Hughes, District 44 Legislator and Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee has frequently shown himself to be a staunch ally of NPPD and big business over and above the citizens of Nebraska as evidenced by his legislative action and/or lack thereof as well as in his monthly columns in the McCook Gazette, his 44th District “hometown” newspaper.
After a Feb. 23rd Nebraska Supreme Court decision requiring the Nebraska Public Power District to disclose financial information “in the public interest,” he has now presented an amendment to an omnibus bill to shield NPPD from public disclosure of certain financial information. A draft compromise of the amendment, reached after a 3/7/18 hearing, allows public utilities to withhold “competitive or proprietary information which would give an advantage to business competitors.” Senator Hughes’ amendment has been strongly supported by NPPD, Omaha Public Power District [OPPD], and the Lincoln Electric System. But wait, NPPD as well as the others are non-profit public utilities with Nebraska being the only wholly public utility state in the Union. They have no competition!
Understanding of this conundrum lies with their affiliation with the Southwest Power Pool, a 14-state consortium of public and private utilities. OPPD and LES are also members. As such they function as mignons of this regional organization and, in effect, are now “regional utilities” rather that Nebraska public utilities. They do the bidding of this regional organization which does not make decisions based on what is best for Nebraska. A prime example is the NPPD R-Project, a massive 345kV transmission line project ordered by the Southwest Power Pool and slated to pass thru the heart of the unique, fragile, and environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.
The chief purpose of this project being to promote wind energy development in this region for the benefit of public and private utilities of other states. Siting of this project has been opposed by multiple State and Federal agencies, environmental groups, and the public. The pre-construction phase of this project is already 5.5 million taxpayer dollars over budget.
Sen. Hughes has steadfastly ignored the value of Nebraska’s finest natural resource and now has once again sided with big business. NPPD remains a bloated and arrogant state subsidiary serving a regional organization with minimal oversight by the State of Nebraska. Sen. Hughes proposes to further decrease this oversight. NPPD’S elected Board of Directors serve as “yes men” for NPPD having recently voted to approve a 3.16-million-dollar budget overrun for the R-Project only after the fact.
The “Public Power Game” has changed. It is now time to carefully re-evaluate the rules to ensure that the best interest of Nebraska and Nebraskans is served.
You know, I do seem to recognize the peculiar odor coming from Lincoln. I washed it off my boots today after being in the cattle pen. I hope Senator Hughes is able to wash it off of his.
Brent L. Steffen, M.D.
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