Between the lines: Compare and contrast

Dawson Public Power District General Manager Gwen Kautz.

Dawson Public Power District General Manager Gwen Kautz.

By Gwen Kautz
General Manager

In Nebraska, there are 35 rural public power districts. Each of them is governed by a board of directors and a manager. Because the public power model has been extremely successful, there are other states, including California, who are looking at adopting this type of representation.The best feature of any public power district can not be measured wholly by numbers. Instead, it is the representation of specific groups of people who live in the district’s boundaries. What is important to the Dawson Public Power District board and manager, may not make the top five list of another rural system. Why is that?

It has a lot to do with geography and system demand. RURAL public power districts have components inside the rural piece that serve smaller villages and towns. These villages and towns may support the agricultural community in many ways, but they may have different objectives. A board must balance both sides.

Let’s talk about what all public power districts have in common:

  1. Governed by an elected board.
  2. Is not-for-profit
  3. Is governed by state statute (Chapter 70)
  4. Reinvests revenue back into system improvements
  5. Is impacted by federal regulations that affect our wholesale provider
  6. Buys a majority of their power from the same provider

And what makes us different from each other?

  1. Business philosophy
  2. Operating costs
  3. District size and geography
  4. Rate structures based on system demands
  5. Load factors
  6. Customer make-up
  7. System improvements

The things we have in common allow the state to govern us equally. It provides a legislative continuity that guides our practices to ensure our rate payers are getting a good deal. It creates a common voice among the industry. What we don’t have in common is largely made up of individual board decisions that have a different approach to reliability of service, safety for personnel and low-cost rates.

To control costs, sometimes using the philosophy of “operate till fail” is the only way to ensure expensive repairs are made AS needed. This is not a “prevention philosophy,” but it has worked extremely well for lots of systems. That philosophy does not work for Dawson PPD because of our size, our location and its tie to the larger grid, and our high priorities for safety and reliability. Dawson PPD’s size alone has granted us the ability to spread operating costs across a broader base and allows us (along with some other systems) to utilize different business approaches.

Larger systems are often in positions to tackle newer technology and innovation; allowing smaller systems to learn what might work for them. Dawson PPD takes pride helping other systems whether it’s using our facilities for training (we’re centrally located to several systems), leading the charge on legislative or policy matters, or sharing public relations materials, just to name a few. Public power is a team sport, even if the teams aren’t in the same league.

The similarities and differences among the public power districts demonstrate why rates vary from system to system. No two are identical when considering the location, the technology, the construction of facilities, the demand incurred, the time it’s incurred and the maintenance required.

The uniqueness of local control and not-for-profit status have proven to be the perfect formula for Nebraskans. Rates remain low and accountability remains high.

The Christmas holiday is right around the corner. From my family to yours, may you have a blessed and bright Christmas. Enjoy family, football and the greatest gift of all – the birth of our Savior.

Merry Christmas!


December 2020

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