League of Women Voters Response: Extended Version

I was pleased to recently receive the League of Women Voters candidate survey. Naturally, I prepared fairly extensive thoughts in response to each of the four questions, far exceeding the 500 character limit for responses. I then pared back those thoughts into the limited space the LWV makes available, but I thought it might be worthwhile to share my full thoughts on each question. Here they are!  

QUESTION #1: WHAT MEASURES WILL YOU TAKE TO ENCOURAGE A REDUCTION IN ENERGY CONSUMPTION WHILE MAINTAINING OPPD'S SOLVENCY? 

There are many ways for OPPD’s customer-owners, whether they be homeowners or major office building owners, to reduce energy consumption. Customers should first focus on energy efficiency and conservation actions, and OPPD can and should play a meaningful role in helping its customer-owners identify and implement those efforts. Whether it is more efficient lighting, sealing a leaky building exterior, or adjusting heating and cooling settings, OPPD should actively work with its customers to help them lower their energy bills. Doing so is in OPPD’s best interests. Reducing consumer energy consumption, especially at times of peak demand, reduces the need for OPPD to build additional generation capacity, which is extremely costly.

OPPD should continue and enhance its programs that reduce energy use when electricity is most expensive for OPPD to deliver (peak energy demand).  An example of this is the Lighting Rebate Program that provides rebates to OPPD customers for upgrading to more efficient lighting.  

After a home or building has been made more energy efficient, renewables are now an economically viable alternative - prices of solar and wind in particular have decreased dramatically in the last few years. Furthermore, tax credits now make renewable energy a very serious energy generation option that OPPD, as well as homeowners and business owners should be considering. OPPD can and should be actively involved in developing more renewable energy generation both within its own energy portfolio and within its service territory.  Distributed generation, such as small scale solar, could benefit OPPD significantly in areas that have transmission congestion or at the time of day when electricity is most expensive for OPPD to deliver.

According to the Energy Information Administration, total electricity sales in 2015 fell 1.1 percent in the U.S. from the previous year, marking the fifth time in the past eight years that electricity sales have fallen. This trend is likely to continue, and OPPD must re-examine its business model accordingly. OPPD has historically relied on generating and distributing electricity in order to bring in revenue. But the energy industry is changing quickly.

As distributed generation (think solar on rooftops across the city) reaches critical mass, buildings and equipment continue to become more energy efficient, battery technology improves and becomes less expensive, and smart grid technology is implemented, the industry will change rather dramatically. OPPD may experience a reduction in demand and need to seriously consider decommissioning its large, expensive, centralized generation. OPPD may need to adapt by becoming an energy services company - not an energy generation company.  That transition will open new revenue alternatives and cut costs, both of which should ensure OPPD’s solvency.  

Developing a clear, thoughtful, educated vision of where the industry is headed with regard to energy consumption, renewables, distributed generation, and smart grid technology is something I believe OPPD needs to do, and I would work with management to ensure that a broad, collaborative, inclusive process is created to do so.

QUESTION #2: HOW WILL YOU ASSURE THE PUBLIC IS INVOLVED IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS AT OPPD?

This is an extremely important issue, especially on the heels of OPPD’s recent rate restructuring, which raises costs for low energy/typically low income users and lowers costs for high energy/typically high income customers. There was a groundswell of push back on this proposal from the public, yet OPPD didn’t seem to meaningfully alter its plans as a result of its customer-owners’ input.

First, board meetings need to move to evenings and should rotate throughout the OPPD territory. Next, the board agendas and supplemental information should include more and clearer information, and OPPD should share that information in multiple mediums, including social media.

OPPD should completely re-evaluate and modernize its public input processes. While progress on this front has occurred, there are significant opportunities for improvement. OPPD should create and consistently share a “dashboard” or “balanced scorecard” that publicly articulates its key performance indicators and current status related to relevant objectives and goals.

Next, OPPD and the board specifically should continue to work on its corporate governance, which should define how it interacts with the public. Transparency should be a key component of these governance policies. They should also hold management and the Board accountable for following corporate governance best practices.

When it comes to rate increases, OPPD’s board should focus on representing the public, which may include developing policies that clearly articulate the public’s role in rate proceedings. These processes are currently complicated and relatively opaque, and pulling back the veil is a priority of mine.  When decisions as controversial as the recent rate restructuring are discussed, I will push management to provide at least two alternative policies for the Board to consider, rather than a providing the Board with a yes or no choice.

Finally, if elected, I plan to hold consistent “office hours” throughout my subdistrict wherein any customer-owners are welcome to join me to discuss the state of our utility. And I will make my contact information abundantly available so as to breakdown any barriers between myself and the general public.

QUESTION #3: WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON PRIVATIZING UTILITIES? DOES PRIVATIZATION MAKE SENSE FOR OPPD? 

The state of Nebraska’s status as the only 100% public power state in the U.S. is a huge advantage, and we should not consider privatization. Public power’s most distinct advantage is that it should engage its owners - the public - in its decision making. More specifically, it should consider the unique needs of our community and meaningfully and genuinely solicit and consider the public’s input.

Public power also means that we are able to keep local dollars in local hands. Privatization often results in investors from far and wide, which sucks the money out of the region and out of the state. Additionally, public utilities aren’t beholden to the profit-driven motive that investor-owned utilities require, which should keep rates down.

I’m strongly in favor of public power. I do, however, believe that we can take better advantage of that status. In particular, I will work hard to ensure OPPD is transparent and open to the public so as to ensure OPPD’s customer-owners are a key part of the decision-making process.

I’m also interested in building relationships with the Nebraska State Legislature to find ways to innovate in the way private companies do. OPPD should be fostering relationships with state representatives so as to break down regulatory barriers that are preventing or delaying progress on things like renewable generation.

QUESTION #4: WHAT ARE YOUR QUALIFICATIONS FOR THIS OFFICE?

First, I co-founded and lead a small business, Verdis Group (the Chamber’s 2015 Small Business of the Year), that consults to large institutions on how to be more energy efficient and reduce energy costs. Through my seven years of work with major Omaha employers such as UNMC, the Henry Doorly Zoo, OPS, and UNO - to name a few - I have developed deep knowledge of the energy industry. That knowledge coupled with my degree in finance and an MBA offer an excellent combination that is well suited to the OPPD Board of Directors.

I also have several years of community leadership experience with involvement on many nonprofit boards, regional planning committees, and City of Omaha boards. A few examples include the City’s Urban Design Review Board, the University of Nebraska President’s Advisory Council, chair of Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Stakeholder Committee, the Business Ethics Alliance Board of Trustees, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Environment Omaha’s Core Committee, and the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition’s board of directors. [See full list on our About page.]

It is through these activities and experiences that I have demonstrated an ability to navigate through difficult decisions, build consensus among and between disparate parties, tactfully ask tough questions, and lead organizations to bigger and better things. I am often asked to lead boards and committees, which is a demonstration of my strong leadership capabilities.