OPPD board approves budget that keeps rates steady. Monthly fixed fees will rise $5

The Omaha Public Power District board on Thursday approved a $1.18 billion budget for 2019 that keeps electricity rates steady.

Board members discussed a third year of flat electric rates, saving money by going faster in decommissioning the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, and undertaking a five-year effort to replace traditional streetlights with brighter, more energy-efficient LED lights.

They also heard from the public about the final year of a four-year plan passed in 2015 that shifted more of the utility’s fixed costsonto a broader base of its customers, using fees instead of rates.

That plan increased the amount of fixed monthly fees on OPPD electric bills by about $5 a year starting in 2016.

Those fees will increase to $30 a month in 2019, up from $10.25 in 2015.

Utility officials have said the shift is needed as appliances and devices become more efficient and as more people start generating power at home, including by using solar panels.

Omaha resident Scott Williams said people on fixed incomes and people who invested in their homes to make them more energy efficient have been hurt by the change.

“It’s not really the rate we care about,” he said. “I care about the bill.”

OPPD has said most residential customers — those who pay monthly bills of between $80 and $125 a month — shouldn’t pay more for their total electricity bills. That’s because, as part of the plan to shift to fees, OPPD has lowered the variable portion of electric bills, the portion that includes rates.

Higher fixed costs tend to disproportionately hit the budgets of low-income people who try to use less power.

To address that, OPPD created an assistance plan that has been used by almost 18,500 people.

Some highlights of OPPD’s 2019 budget include $18 million for a new power substation in southwest Omaha and $2 million more for tree-trimming efforts that OPPD says cut down on costly outages.

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