Two energy-related bills heard before Natural Resources Committee

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraskans enjoy some of the lowest costs for electricity in the country tanking the 15th lowest in the nation for overall retail electric rates.

The Natural Resources Committee Room was packed Thursday with opposers and supporters of two energy-related bills. One being lb657, which would adopt the Retail Electricity Transparency Act.

It would require electricity suppliers to 'unbundle' electricity charges, meaning public power companies will have to break rates down and provide detailed information to customers.

NPA members said the bill would tell customers a change in an energy charge occurred but not why it did. They go on to say public power already offers a variety of communications to help customers understand what impacts rate changes.

NPA Chair, Troy Bredenkamp, agrees, saying one of the most important attributes of public power is local control, explaining if customers want more detailed billing, it should be discussed between customers and local utility.

To provide the unbundling, the state would pay significant costs to upgrade or replace current billing systems and Nebraskans would be paying the price.

Those supporting the bill say providing more information to the customer will allow them to have more control and know where their money is going.

The other bill causing heated debate is lb660, referred to as "retail choice for electricity."

The bill would allow customers to pick who their electric providers will be and purchase from private suppliers.

NPA says, if passed, it would be costly to Nebraska taxpayers and create an unnecessary regulatory system.

About one third of states have adopted retail electric choice, and NPA says, it has not effectively lowered electric rates.

Currently, Nebraska is the only state that runs on public power.

"We took a look at the average residential rate in those 16-17 retail choice states and Nebraska's rate is 31% lower today. All those states today have rates about the same as when they implemented or higher" Shelley Sahling-Zart, Vice President and General Counsel Lincoln Electric System.

The Legislature's Fiscal Office estimates that lb660 would cost 2.7 - 5 million to implement.

Opposers say with an investor-owned utility, they will make sure they're making a profit for their shareholders and not customers.

Supporters of the bill say it will open the market, bring everyone to the table and will actually save Nebraskans money.