I have a confession to make – I am not a born and bred Nebraskan. I was raised in North Dakota, which means that I have not always been fortunate enough to have my electricity provided by public power. I know the realities of being a customer of a privately-owned utility, which means I also know what makes public power great.
Case in point – the winter of 2007-2008. This was my first year of college. I was enrolled at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and I lived in an apartment with my older sister. At first glance, the apartment was perfect – it was roomy, historic, and in the “hip” part of town.
For non-Northerners, Grand Forks is less than 100 miles from the Canadian border, it is situated on the Red River (which strangely flows north), and it is routinely listed as one of the coldest places on earth (the average low in January is negative 3.1°F). I was aware of these facts before I moved there, but they did not affect me in any significant way until my sister and I received our first utility bill of the winter.
We were shocked at how much we were being charged. So shocked, in fact, that my sister made a tearful call to the power company inquiring as to whether some mistake had been made and perhaps they had charged us for the entire apartment complex instead of just for our singular apartment. But it was to no avail – the bill was correct and, more pressingly, it was due by the end of the month.
Since my sister and I could not afford to spend as much on heating our apartment as we were paying to rent it, we immediately instituted some severe austerity measures. We turned down the heat to just high enough so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze. We bought heavy blankets to add to the multiple comforters we already had on our beds.
On really cold nights, we would sleep on the floor of the living room, which was the warmest place in the apartment. We were cold – so cold, in fact, that sometimes we enthusiastically spent evenings at the campus library, not because we were such dedicated students but because it was always toasty warm there.
Going to such extremes to reduce our monthly bill was necessary for us. We simply could not afford to properly heat our apartment paying what we were being charged for electricity.
I now live in a very small town in central Nebraska (and by very small I mean that it has a population of less than 400) and am pleased to have South Central Public Power District provide my electrical services. My current apartment is roomier and even more historic than my Grand Forks apartment and although there is no “hip” part of town, it is quiet and safe.
My first winter in Nebraska found me happily working as a technical writer for NPPD at the Doniphan Control Center. And, once again, I was shocked when I received my first utility bill of the winter – but for entirely different reasons than before. This time, I couldn’t believe how affordable my bill was compared to what I was used to paying outside of Nebraska!
It isn’t just a fluke or a happy coincidence that my utility bills are more affordable here in Nebraska. There are reasons behind this and it is not because I am no longer enduring North Dakota winters – winters in Nebraska are by no means mild. What is going on, I came to learn, is that a conscious decision was made to provide Nebraskans with affordable and reliable energy. Public power is not profit driven. Electricity is provided at a cost-of-service price. Any money taken in by the utility that exceeds costs is invested back into the electric system to ensure the reliable delivery of energy.
On a national basis, the average electrical rates for residential electric customers of privately-owned/investor-owned utilities are 20 percent more than the rates of residential electric customers of public power. Your eyes may gloss over that figure and it may seem like just a number, but when it is your reality, as it was mine before moving to Nebraska, it can have a very significant impact on your way of life.
I truly believe that one thing that makes public power great is that it is affordable. And affordability is important whether you are a broke college student, the sole income provider for a family of four, or a non-native Nebraskan living in an old apartment building in rural Nebraska.
Winter is fast approaching and, unlike eight years ago, I do not have pangs of fear run through me when I go to turn up the thermostat. The peace of mind that public power gives me is … priceless.