How Does Public Power Work?

Local Control

Nebraska utility employees play an active role in community events

Publicly elected power district boards, appointed utility boards, rural electric cooperative boards, and city council representatives, control Nebraska’s utilities. Public power directors and council members understand their most important responsibility is to serve the needs of their customers, who also vote in elections. These governing representatives set service standards, budgets, policies, and electric prices. Regularly scheduled meetings of utility boards and councils are open to the public.

The Nebraska Legislature, through state statutes, ultimately directs Nebraska’s public power industry. However, the Nebraska Power Review Board examines retail and wholesale service area agreements, approves construction of new electric generation facilities and transmission lines, and oversees the state’s long-range power supply plan.

Nebraska’s publicly controlled utilities have operated successfully for nearly 125 years. People like having a say in matters that affect them. And we are glad they do, as customer feedback helps keep us on track and pushes us to do better.

Reliability

A lineman from Cornhusker Public Power District works on a power line

If your lights go out, chances are that a squirrel or a tree had something to do with it.

Nebraska’s utilities love squirrels and trees as much as anyone. But when squirrels come into contact with a power line, they get electrocuted and your lights go out. Tree limbs can catch fire when they touch a power line—and your lights go out.

That’s why Nebraska’s utilities regularly trim trees that are near power lines—to keep your lights on!

There’s not much we can do about squirrels, however.

Nebraska’s utilities proactively maintain power plants, transmission and distribution lines, and related equipment like transformers, to keep the electric system in tip-top condition. We also spend millions of dollars annually trimming trees and bushes around power lines and transformers, to remove potentially dangerous situations and ensure that your power stays on 24/7/365. We do this so that electricity is there when you flip the switch.

Utility employees and customers discuss potential routes for a transmission line

Electricity travels at nearly the speed of light, arriving at a destination at almost the moment it is produced. Unlike oil or natural gas in a pipeline, electricity cannot be stored. Although many people are working to demonstrate and commercialize electric storage technologies, the breakthrough we’re all seeking has not yet taken place. Which means that electricity must be generated and delivered precisely when needed.

Nebraska’s public power system is a complex network of power plants, transmission lines, transformers, and distribution lines. The transfer of electricity from generation facilities across transmission equipment and distribution systems is a carefully controlled process. The system works as well as it does because of the people—people who plan and operate the system, maintain the equipment, construct new facilities, and provide customer service.

Some Nebraska utilities generate electricity at power plants and transmit it across the state’s high-voltage transmission grid. Others deliver that electricity to farms, rural towns, suburbs, and metropolitan areas via their low-voltage distribution network. Bottom line: Nebraska’s 167 publicly owned utilities work together to keep the power flowing to customers each and every day, rain or shine.

Affordability

Nebraska’s public power utilities were created to provide low-cost, reliable electric service. Electricity is priced on costs, and the revenue that is generated is used to pay operating expenses and make necessary investments in maintenance, construction, and system upgrades. The rates do not include a profit margin.

Since Nebraska’s utilities are not owned by investors, we can charge lower prices because we don’t have to pay dividends to stockholders. Nebraska’s electric consumers reap the benefits of highly reliable service, as well as electric prices that are well under the national average.

Nebraska’s public power utilities make significant contributions to the state’s economy every year. Literally millions of dollars in the form of in-lieu-of-tax, gross revenue tax, general fund transfers, and lease payments are paid to local and state governments. For instance, Nebraska’s public schools receive more than $10 million per year from the 5% gross revenue tax paid by public power districts.

Low-priced electricity can be a competitive advantage in economic development and job-creation. Energy-intensive manufacturers have come to Nebraska because of its low electricity prices. That means more jobs for Nebraskans! We’re happy to contribute to the state’s economic growth and the well-being of our customers by providing affordable electricity.