Public utilities can make a case for keeping some information secret on their costs for generating electricity, but they should be very careful where they draw the line. They should withhold only absolutely essential information. To withhold anything more would distance the governing boards and executives from their owners — the public.
A transparent relationship is crucial for public utilities to retain public support over the long-term, particularly when rates become volatile.
The issue of confidentiality on the costs of generation has become high-profile recently because Gary Aksamit, a Bruning native who heads First Security Power, an energy marketing company based in Dallas, has gone to court to get more information from the Omaha Public Power District, Nebraska Public Power District and Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.
Aksamit last year also claimed at an energy symposium that Nebraska ratepayers could save $250 million a year by opening the state’s retail market to outside competition. Nebraska is the only state where all electricity is delivered by publicly owned utilities.
Last year Aksamit said his company plans to build three wind farms in southeastern Nebraska with an investment of $725 million. He has filed a request with the Southwest Power Pool to connect to power transmission lines from a wind farm in Saline County.
So far Aksamit has not filed a legal action against the Lincoln Electric System. LES Vice President Shelley Sahling-Zart said LES staffers spent hundreds of hours gathering information requested by Aksamit, who paid $4,216.
Sahling-Zart said LES did not provide information about the rates at which it buys electricity from some renewable energy facilities owned by private developers. She said that information is owned by the private developer and subject to nondisclosure agreements.
In 2014 after signing a contract with the Arbuckle Mountain wind farm in Oklahoma, LES officials said that the contracts for electricity from renewable sources will save more than $420 million over the next 25 years, based on a comparison of the cost of the contracts with the projected price of energy in the Southwest Power Pool market.
Whenever the issue of secrecy arises, LES and Nebraska’s other publicly owned utilities should be very careful to give the public enough information to judge whether the utility is being managed properly and efficiently. Public trust and confidence are at stake.
Lincoln Journal Star