October 6-12 is Public Power Week, our annual chance to highlight public power and what it means. While public power is honored nationwide this week, Nebraska has special cause to celebrate.
Public power utilities in Nebraska have had a long tradition of providing customers safe, reliable electric service. While there are more than 2,000 publicly-owned electric utilities in the country, Nebraska is the only 100% public power state in the United States because Nebraskans understand the value proposition of public power — affordability, reliability, safety and community control. As a state, Nebraska has some of the lowest electric rates in the country. As a community, the Lincoln area has counted on the affordable, reliable electricity provided by public power for more than 50 years.
As a not-for-profit company operated to reflect the values of its customers, LES strives to make decisions that align with those values while positioning the utility for future success, using innovation to meet customer needs and balance high standards of reliability and cost-effectiveness with sustainability. Its mix of power resources provides the utility flexibility, adaptability and stability in an ever-changing energy landscape experiencing evolving regulations and shifting economic forces.
The key to balancing sustainability and reliability in today’s market is a diverse generation mix. On an energy basis, energy production from renewable resources is equivalent to about 48% of LES’ retail sales. LES’ renewable footprint has grown over the years and now consists of hydro, solar, wind and landfill gas generation. LES’s nameplate resource portfolio is 35.0% natural gas, 30.6% coal and 34.4% renewable (approximately 1/3 each) — one of the most balanced in the country. This helps LES ensure reliability while utilizing more sustainable renewable energy sources.
While the energy industry is experiencing rapid change as it adjusts to new energy attitudes, Lincoln Electric System continues to receive honors, including recognition as a Reliable Public Power Provider through the American Public Power Association. This is good for Lincoln and the surrounding area. Because LES is community-owned and not-for-profit, profits are returned to customers in the form of lower rates or invested back into the utility as system updates to help reliably maintain those lower rates.
Rather than paying out-of-state stockholders, the public power model also enables our electric utility to transfer profits to our local government as payments in lieu of taxes. Since 1966, LES has paid approximately $299 million in payments in lieu of taxes to the Lincoln Public School District, city of Lincoln, Lancaster County and city of Waverly. That is money invested directly in the present and future prosperity of our community.
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Public power utilities are governed by individuals appointed by elected officials, like me and the rest of the LES Board, who are accountable to the community they serve, the community they live and work in. Public power is local people serving local people. That community control means Nebraskans don’t need to buy stock to have a say in their electric utility. Every customer in the LES service area is part-owner of LES.
As Nebraska’s second-largest retail electric provider, LES serves more than 140,000 customers across its 200-square-mile service territory. Those customers experienced the 11th lowest rates among 100 cities surveyed in LES’ 2019 national rate study and continue to have the lowest rates among all 14 college-towns in the Big Ten four years running. LES has been able to maintain these low rates while simultaneously keeping power 99.99% available — one of the highest reliability ratings in the U.S.
Because LES is made up of local people serving local people, employees care deeply about Lincoln and the surrounding communities. That culture saturates everything they do and each decision they make. LES employees are regular people from the community, our family members, neighbors and friends, driven to help power a stronger Lincoln.
During Public Power Week, take a moment to reflect on what it takes to energize our world. And, if you get the chance, thank an LES employee in your life while we celebrate part of what makes our state so special. Their work keeps the lights on in our community. With public power all Nebraskans can have a chance at the good life.
LES Board Chair
on behalf of the LES Board
Layne Sup is chair of the Lincoln Electric Systems Administrative Board. This column is being written on behalf of the entire board.