Catching Up With Eric Williams, OPPD Board Member

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August 29th, 2019

Fees and rates. Renewable energy. Community engagement.

Those are just a few of the things that Eric Williams, one of the newest members of the Omaha Public Power District Board of Directors, says the board has been working on.

“There have been some great successes over the last six months,” says Williams. “And I won’t say that those are directly because of any outcome of either the election in November or previous elections. But I am glad to be a part of the board on some of these projects moving forward.”

Last fall, I sat down with Williams and his opponent, Tom Barrett, as they vied for a north Omaha seat on the board. It’s his first elected role, and he’s learning as he goes.

For example, one of the more complicated issues that OPPD grapples with is fixed fees and rates charged to customers. 

“One thing I have learned over the last several months is that the rate structure is quite a bit more complicated than I had expected. It’s a little more challenging than just that fixed fee and the unit cost.”

But he says the board is working on ways to restructure the residential rate system implemented in 2015 and make sure those costs are fair for all customers, regardless of usage. The way the system is set up, he says, can disproportionately affect those using the least amount of power.

“People who are low and moderate income, people who are conservative in their energy use — those people end up with a lower amount of consumption and so they end up with a higher average kilowatt hour cost, and that is a particularly challenging issue,” he says.

“Board members have really expressed some strong interest in seeing updates to that residential rate, specifically, because the changes that have happened since 2015 have been felt differently by different people.”

Williams also discussed the decommissioning of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, which is well underway.

“We decided to take a shorter term decommissioning. There’s a little more expense in the short term, but it does mean that some of the long term expenses won’t be necessary. So it does show an overall decrease in the cost of the decommissioning. That process is moving along very well.”

He recently toured that facility, and also took a look at a community solar panel project being installed nearby. Williams says most of the panels are already in place, and it’s expected to be up and running sometime this fall.

The two projects being so close brings to mind the adage: “Out with the old, in with the new.”

“The Fort Calhoun nuclear station,” Williams says, “which is in the decommissioning process, and the new community solar project, which is in its original commissioning process, is kind of an interesting view of some technology that is no longer going to be part of our utility and some new technology that is just emerging. And it’s starting to show some really great benefits to the customer owners here at OPPD.”

One of the board’s newest strategic initiatives, which guide OPPD’s policy going forward, investigates pathways to decarbonization. Other ways the company is evolving include incentives for driving electric vehicles and an income qualified Energy Efficiency Program, which helps lower-income customers keep power costs down. 

And despite recent sweeping changes to energy policy at the federal level, including rollbacks of carbon emission regulations, Williams says OPPD will continue to evaluate scientific evidence and work to craft local policy that benefits customers and the community. 

“Regardless of what’s happening at the federal level, everyone who lives in OPPD’s territory has a direct representative that would be glad to hear from them about how we would like to see local policy made.

“And so the changes at the national level,” he continues, “while I think some of them are not the direction we should be moving into the future, we do have an opportunity locally to demonstrate that we understand where the market is going, and we understand what is going to be necessary in the future.”

OPPD board meetings are open to the public and streamed online, as well. The next meeting will be held Thursday, September 12.

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