Making OPPD's Public Meetings More Accessible

I attended the OPPD Board Committee meetings this morning (board package here) along with exactly one other member of the public. These Committee meetings are where the really good discussions happen. They precede the larger board meetings by two days and offer a much deeper dive into many of the Thursday topics that don't get quite as much attention.

I left with eight pages of notes. Here are the highlights:

  1. Financials look good. Net income is $2.9M over budget after you remove the massive adjustment made due to the decision to close the nuclear plant.
  2. The rate restructuring, which started to take effect in June, has actually dropped revenues over $800,000 over June/July. This occurred because the $/kwh went down, and during the summer (OPPD's high-volume season) some customers stand to benefit.
  3. The Nuclear Safety Review Board visited Fort Calhoun recently and said they were very impressed with the dedication and professionalism of OPPD's employees. I'm not surprised. Also related to Fort Calhoun, senior management will be spending a full day onsite on August 25 talking with employees about upcoming plans for the plant. 
  4. OPPD's customer satisfaction figures, as reported by J.D. Power, are good and improving. 
  5. Two Nissan Leafs were purchased.
  6. There was a presentation on the Southwest Power Pool. It was great to learn the ins and outs of how the SPP works, and what the benefits are to OPPD. The short story: there's a lot of wind and solar potential, but SPP needs to ensure there's a way to sell it outside of the SPP territory; socialization of infrastructure investments such as transmission lines is generally very beneficial to OPPD; the SPP removes a great deal of price volatility in the market; 

The last agenda item was a presentation by Steven Bruckner regarding the Nebraska Open Meetings Act. It covered all the basics of what OPPD must do to comply with the law. It was some pretty basic stuff with no real surprises. In essence, he described the minimum requirements, which is important, but I found myself wishing there was a champion in the room that would spark a meaningful discussion about best practices for public meetings.

More specifically, I typed the following questions:

  1. Notice of public meetings must occur in advance, and it normally is sent to a media list. Why not push out via other mechanisms such as social media? Why not offer the public some simple highlights for what's on the agenda? 
  2. How can we leverage technology to allow for a two-way dialogue between the board and those viewing the board meeting via OPPD's live stream? The technology exists to allow people to call in and/or submit questions electronically. Why must a person be physically present to ask a question? 
  3. Can meetings be moved to the evenings and occasionally work their way around the district to make it easier for those in rural Nebraska to attend? 
  4. What limitations or latitude do board members have to share highlights from the meeting via their own platforms (website, social media, etc.)? 

These are just a few questions and ideas I pondered; I have a much longer list of questions and ideas related to transparency and public engagement. I'm not advocating that we turn board meetings into a circus. Rather, I'm interested in finding meaningful ways ways in which the public can be involved. 

It's important to note that this Thursday's board meeting is at 7pm at Bellevue University. While the agenda is fairly light and wouldn't typically attract much attention from the public, I really hope that a good crowd attends. Public engagement is a two-way street, after all. When the board tests out evening meetings in new locations, it's incumbent upon the public to show up. Hope to see you there!