You already knew Nebraska was unique, but did you know that we’re the only state in the union that derives all of its electricity from publicly owned utilities? That sounds boring, but actually it’s pretty awesome.
In other states, private companies own all or part of the electrical grid and the plants which generate that electricity, whether through the burning of coal, gas, solar field, wind turbines, or other means. Those companies charge customers enough to cover the costs of bringing electricity to the state, and on top of that, to provide healthy profits to their stock holders. Basically, they take money from everyone in a state that pays for electricity and filters it up to those who own stock, wherever they are. The prime responsibility of those who run those companies is to their stockholders, who technically own the company. So the number one factor in any decision is what will maximize company profits, in the short and long term.
In Nebraska, we own the electrical grid and the plants. Any money the public power utilities make is plowed back into making the system stronger. Any increases in rates need to be approved by a board of people we elect, and the number one factor in any decision is how to make our electricity cheaper and better across the state. The fact that we elect the people who govern the public power utilities gives us the power to weigh in on the direction the state should take in how to generate electricity in the future. Do we want more cheap coal? Or do we want to invest in more solar panels? Or more wind turbines? (Ever notice how hella windy it is here? I think that might be a clue. Just sayin’.)
Because we at Seeing Red believe history is important to know—we got your back historians!—let’s take a moment to learn about how we became so electrically unique. As part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, in 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA). This act was sponsored by Nebraskan Senator George Norris in order to help rural Nebraskans and other rural Americans to access the benefits of electricity and generally raise their standard of living. In brief, the REA allowed the federal government to make low-cost loans to farmers who had banded together to create non-profit cooperatives for the purpose of bringing electricity to rural America. In Nebraska, those non-profit cooperatives span our state; some of the biggest cooperatives include the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) and the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD). Those of us in Lincoln will be familiar with the Lincoln Electric System (LES). If you want to see all the different publicly owned non-profit cooperatives providing electricity in our state, check out the map on p. 5 of this legislative overview. Other states have some of these cooperatives, but only Nebraskans had the good sense to realize that this was the cheapest, most democratic and publicly responsible way to handle providing electricity to every person in this state and to make it the way we handle the provision of energy.
So how does this link to voting? Well, if you were reading carefully above, you’ll have noted that Nebraskans elect the people who oversee our electricity cooperatives. Those of you in the NPPD and OPPD will see these elections on your ballot in a few weeks. In both of these districts, there are a few candidates who have proclaimed their support for clean, green energy, to bring us into the future at a time when it’s super important to keep fossil fuels in the ground. (Not to mention decreasing the amount of bomb trains running through the middle of our cities, but that’s a story for another day.)
The following candidates are green-friendly, and electing them will help tip the governing boards of OPPD and NPPD in a decidedly sustainable, environmentally friendlier direction. If that’s as much your jam as it is ours, vote for these far-sighted women and men:
Charlie Kennedy (Subdivision 5- Scottsbluff, North Platte area)
Leon Lutkemeier (Subdivision 6- Holdrege, Lexington, Cozad area)
If you want to up your local green game, check out the Husker Power Plan being backed by community leaders and groups around the state, and volunteer to help work to get our public power boards to adopt it. (Here’s some more info on the Husker Power Plan and the plan for making it a reality.)