Omaha Public Power District is working hard to keep rates low and affordable for its customers. Vice President & Chief Financial Officer Javier Fernandez shared the latest on those efforts with the OPPD Board of Directors during their committee meetings this week. The information is part of the Strategic Directive (SD) 2: Rates monitoring report.
The utility is working toward a directional goal to achieve rates that are 20% below the West North Central Region (WNC) regional average. The WNC region includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Missouri.
The latest information available from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) from 2018 indicated OPPD’s average residential bill was $107.64, compared with an average of $115.68 for the WNC region. OPPD’s average of rates across all customer classes was 8.9% below the WNC regional average. The district expects to gain more ground toward its directional goal while continuing to honor its commitment to no general rate increases for five years, through 2021.
The board discussed and accepted the SD-2 monitoring report during its monthly meeting today, which means directors find the utility to be sufficiently in compliance with the directive. The full monitoring report is available here.
Customer First Solutions
OPPD has been watching coronavirus developments within our communities closely. During this week’s board committee meetings, some updates to the district’s Customer First Solutions were discussed. The solutions were designed to help customers currently facing challenges and hardships related to the pandemic.
OPPD had announced in March that it would hold off on disconnections for non-payment of bills. In April, the board approved suspending the assessment of late payment charges. However, as the situation is evolving, so is OPPD’s approach to helping our customers.
Directors voted today to resume the assessment of late payment charges in July. However, depending on a customer’s specific circumstances, their late payment fees could be waived for up to three months within a 12 month period.
Customers who need help should reach out to us by calling 402-536-4131 in the Omaha calling area, or 877-536-4131 outside of the Omaha area. We want to work with customers to setup workable payment plans and help connect them to community resources for assistance.
Financial help is available through local organizations, as well as state agencies. OPPD reminds customers that making a partial payment will help avoid building up a large balance that will be harder to pay off later.
Customers who have not been able to pay their utility bills may qualify for Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) federal grant funding. The maximum amount of assistance customers can receive in crisis assistance is $500. However, since we have not been disconnecting service, customers have not been reaching out for that funding.
OPPD strongly encourages customers who are feeling overwhelmed by utility debt to reach out for crisis assistance before disconnections resume mid-July. We will waive collection and reconnection fees on the first field visit. Additionally, we will still honor our standard moratorium on disconnections during holidays and during extreme heat or cold.
Some additional support measures we’re offering for our customers include:
- OPPD has removed income restrictions on our own energy assistance fund through September. This will help more customers who may not qualify otherwise. Customers may receive up to $500 in energy assistance through the utility.
- OPPD has launched a new program called Gift of Energy, which enables people to pay a customer’s bill based upon their address.
- OPPD continues to offer energy saving and other helpful information for businesses through its Business Energy Advisor
Racial diversity, equality & justice
In recent pre-committee meetings and in committee meetings this week, the board discussed ways OPPD can demonstrate its support for racial justice. Today, directors passed a resolution that publicly condemns systemic racism and reaffirms that OPPD will continue to take a leadership role in the pursuit of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.
On a related note, OPPD President & CEO Tim Burke, who is also Chair of the Greater Omaha Chamber Board, joined other key leaders today in announcing a regional initiative designed to address systemic racism. The initiative, CEOs for CODE, is the result of a June 3rd meeting in which more than 140 CEOs met to discuss topics such as housing disparity, educational opportunity, health availability, access to economic prosperity and moving Greater Omaha forward amid racial inequality.
CEOs for CODE is a call to action, and invites other business leaders to sign a letter of commitment to specific deliverables including breaking down barriers, creating opportunities and supporting people of color within our workplaces and communities, among other areas.
Next month, OPPD is launching a new customer engagement platform to replace OPPDListens.com. The new platform is designed to provide a more enhanced experience, with multiple ways for customers to interact with OPPD and each other. It also allows our customers to provide valuable feedback in new ways. In addition to providing comments and asking questions, customers will be able to participate in quick polls and surveys. They can also share stories, exchange ideas and more.
While other public entities and municipalities are using this new engagement platform, OPPD will be the first utility in the country to implement it. Providing stakeholders an opportunity to gain insight on multiple projects is important to OPPD, as is allowing them weigh in on those projects and receive updates. These outreach efforts deliver on the public power promise of transparency. We will share more information as the platform launches publicly.
Power with Purpose
The board received an update this week on OPPD’s Power with Purpose (PwP) plan, approved in November 2019. The plan includes adding 400 to 600 megawatts of accredited utility-scale solar generation, as well as modernized natural gas backup generation.
Since April, the PwP team has been conducting a detailed technical and financial review of solar generation proposals received by the utility. They have also conducted discussions with stakeholders about potential sites. Those discussions are ongoing.
In April and May, the team continued to evaluate natural gas supply options and submitted required documentation to the Southwest Power Pool for interconnection planning. They are developing a request for proposals for additional natural gas generation assets, while evaluating supply options. Stakeholder discussions are also ongoing for this portion of the PwP plan.
Directors also discussed a recent vote by the Sarpy County Board of Commissioners. Last week, the Sarpy County board adopted zoning regulations related to large solar energy installations and put a moratorium on the construction of infrastructure fueled by fossil fuels, including natural gas, until Oct. 31, for the stated purpose of developing additional zoning regulations. While OPPD has made no final decisions on siting for solar or natural gas assets, the PwP team is examining its next steps for the project.
In other actions, directors:
- Ratified the decision to conduct the June Board meetings virtually due to the COVID-19 public health situation.
- Approved the April 2020 Comprehensive Financial and Operating Report, May 2020 meeting minutes, and the June 11, 2020 agenda.
- Approved revised and modernized service regulations, rate schedules, and rider schedules, as described here, effective June 11, 2020. The changes are designed to update these items, as well as to improve their readability and understanding.
- Approved updating the applicability of Rider Schedule 464 – Standby Service – to state it is not mandatory for renewable generation to be included within this rider schedule.
- Awarded a contract, in the amount of $870,212, to Associated Fire Protection for engineering, procurement, and construction services to replace the cooling tower fire protection piping at Nebraska City Station Unit 2, as well as convert the existing dry pipe system to a pre-action system. This work will be done this fall and will not require the plant to be out of service.
- Discussed and accepted the monitoring report for SD-15: Enterprise Risk Management, finding the utility to be sufficiently in compliance with the directive.
- Received the president’s monthly utility report. You can view this report after it is posted by visiting com/boardmeeting.
Next month’s board committee meetings will start at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 14. The monthly board meeting will be Thursday, July 16, at 4 p.m. Visit OPPD.com closer to meeting dates for information on how these meetings will be conducted.