The Omaha Public Power District's board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to increase current rates effective January 1st.
The increase proposed by the utility equates to 7.7 percent for residential customers, a little less for commercial customers and a little more for industrial customers. It would raise the average monthly bill of $94.45 by $7.31.
"It’s something that we proposed reluctantly, but it’s something that we have to do to ensure we remain in a position to serve our customers the way they expect to be serviced," said OPPD spokesman Mike Jones.
Jones said the utility needs to make up about $60 million in the budget, including in large part repairs and upgrades to the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, which sustained damage in the 2011 floods.
"We took a number of measures to try and cut the budget to reduce it as much as possible, but for us to remain in the position that we can continue to provide our customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy, we were forced to ask the board to approve rates."
Jones pointed out that OPPD rates are still among the lowest in the region. They are 18 percent lower than the national average. "So we still feel it’s a good deal for our customers."
Marty Brown is a retired accountant and one of those customers who gave OPPD officials his opinion of the rate increase prior to the board's vote. He said he’s on a fixed income and can't believe he's about to take another hit.
Later at home, Marty went over his expenses. He said Social Security will give him an extra $21, but half of that increase will be spent on the basics. "Just two utilities alone, that represents 49 percent of the increase Social Security people are going to get this year. We haven't been able to catch up, senior citizens, so they wonder where their money is going and it's because of utilities, food, gasoline, it's causing seniors to cut back."
Marty is a member of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom and says all the extra cost begins to pile up and a little more here and a little more there will keep most seniors trying to relax at home. "You don't go out to eat that often, you don't see your grandkids that often, you don't buy nice things. You settle for generic rather than the top of the line products."
In other action, the OPPD board authorized management to enter into a long-term power purchase agreement with Prairie Breeze Wind Energy to purchase 200 megawatts of wind from their wind farm near Elgin, Nebraska west of Norfolk. OPPD would start receiving 200 megawatts of output by January 1, 2014.
This additional generation means OPPD will reach its goal of having 10 percent of its energy come from renewable resources. The original goal was to make that happen in 2020, so the utility is six years early in meeting that goal.