NEBRASKA POWER REVIEW BOARD
February 8, 2021
The 816th meeting of the Nebraska Power Review Board (“the Board” or “PRB”) was held in the First Floor Hearing Room, Nebraska State Office Building, 301 Centennial Mall, Lincoln, Nebraska. The roll was called and present were Chairman Reida, Vice Chairman Hutchison, Mr. Grennan, Ms. Loutzenhiser, and Mr. Moen. Chairman Reida , Mr. Grennan, and Ms. Loutzenhiser were participating through videoconference on Webex, pursuant to the provisions Executive Orders 21-02 and 20-36. Executive Director Texel stated that public notice for the meeting had been published in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper on February 2, 2021. The Board also made the meeting available to the public through Webex. The Webex log-in information was available on the Board’s website and was published in the Lincoln Journal Star notice. Executive Director Texel explained that if any member of the public wanted to speak, they could click on their “raise your hand” icon. At that time they would be unmuted, they could announce who was speaking, and then they could offer their comment or question. All background materials for the agenda items to be acted on were provided to all Board members prior to the meeting and a copy of the materials was in each Board member’s notebook. The executive director announced that a copy of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act was on display on the south wall of the room for the public to review, and another copy was available in a black three-ring binder on the table at the back of the room. A copy of all materials that the Board would consider was available for public inspection on a table in the back of the room, as well as extra copies of the agenda.
The Board first considered the draft minutes from its January 15, 2021, public meeting. The Board did not receive any comments recommending changes to the draft minutes. The staff did not have any changes to suggest, either. The minutes were sent electronically to all the Board members. However, the e-mail was sent as an encrypted message due to a change in the State’s e-mail system and not all Board members were able to open the attachment to view the documents prior to the meeting. Vice Chairman Hutchison moved to approve the minutes. Mr. Moen seconded the motion. Voting on the motion: Chairman Reida – abstain, Vice Chairman Hutchison – yes, Mr. Grennan – yes, Ms. Loutzenhiser – abstain, and Mr. Moen – yes. The motion carried 3-0 with two abstaining. Chairman Reida and Ms. Loutzenhiser abstained because they were unable to open the attachment and read the minutes prior to the meeting.
The next agenda item was acceptance of the expense report for the month of January. In January there was $23,795.16 in personal services, $17,457.63 in operating expenses, and $67.28 in travel expenses. The total expenses for January were $41,320.07. Executive Director Texel noted that the Board has used 59.41% of its cash fund (not including the emergency reserve) and 58% of the fiscal year has passed. Vice Chairman Hutchison asked about the balance in account category 521500 for Publication and Printing Expenses on the cash flow worksheet. The percent used in that account is at 295 percent of the budgeted amount. Ms. Hallgren (the Board’s Business Manager) explained that the account information would be adjusted so it would not show a negative balance. She can reallocate funds from other account categories to the Publication and Printing category. Mr. Grennan asked if it is required to adjust the numbers. Ms. Hallgren stated the numbers do not need to be adjusted to show a positive balance. The Board members discussed the benefit of leaving the numbers as they are so they show a negative balance. This would help to show where funds were being used in higher amounts than was anticipated when the budget was prepared. It would likewise help when preparing the Board’s next budget, so we have evidence to show the need to increase or decrease a category. Ms. Hallgren and Executive Director Texel said they will leave the categories as they are throughout the fiscal year on future cash flow worksheets. Mr. Moen moved to accept the January expense report. Vice Chairman Hutchison seconded the motion. Due to the new e-mail system, Chairman Reida and Ms. Loutzenhiser were unable to view the expense reports prior to the meeting. As with the January meeting minutes, they were not able to open the expense report documents and therefore announced they would abstain. Voting on the motion: Chairman Reida – abstain, Vice Chairman Hutchison – yes, Mr. Grennan – yes, Ms. Loutzenhiser – abstain, and Mr. Moen – yes. The motion carried 3-0 with two abstaining.
The next item on the agenda was a presentation by representatives of the Nebraska Power Association (NPA) regarding joint planning among Nebraska’s power suppliers with retail service areas. The speakers, who appeared via Webex, were Shelley Sahling-Zart with LES, Bruce Vitosh with Norris Public Power District, Neal Niedfeldt with Southern Public Power District, Neal Suess with Loup River Public Power District, and Art Wiese with Nebraska Public Power District. A couple months ago the Board had asked the executive director to draft a letter to all utilities reminding them of their duty to engage in joint planning with their adjoining utilities, as required by Neb. Rev. Stat. section 70-1008(3). Executive Director Texel raised the issue with the NPA at its last Board of Directors meeting. Based on the discussion at the NPA meeting it appeared the PRB and utilities may have a different understanding of what joint planning means and should entail. In previous months, the Board tabled the issue of approving the draft letter until the NPA could provide input regarding the situation. As a result, the NPA sent representatives to the PRB meeting to brief the Board on how the utilities view joint planning, and what activities it involves. Each NPA representative went over what his or her utility does to accomplish joint planning with its adjoining utilities. After the presentations, the Board members thanked the NPA representatives. Both the NPA representative and the Board members thought that it might be good to send a letter to all power suppliers reminding them about joint planning, but also to tell them it does not need to be formal, or follow a specific format, and should not require hiring consultants or anything of that nature. Executive Director Texel said he would review the draft letter to make sure it addressed the issues raised at today’s meeting. He would make any needed edits and send a new draft to the Board members prior to the March 8 meeting.
The next item on the agenda was the executive director’s report. The first item was the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) update. Mr. Grennan gave an update on the activities occurring in SPP. Mr. Moen had a question about the seams issues. Mr. Grennan discussed a conference call that was scheduled for that Friday. Mr. Grennan stated that he was going to make a motion at the next RSC meeting to have a seams report be a standing agenda item at both the RSC and SPP Board quarterly meetings. The RSC formed a Seams Liaison Committee to examine the seams issue between the SPP and MISO RTOs. Executive Director Texel has been coordinating with SPP to schedule an informational update presentation to the PRB. Prior to COVID-19, the SPP had given the presentation annually. This presentation is scheduled to take place at the March 8 PRB meeting. The SPP representatives will appear via Webex. Due to the Board’s questions about electric storage facilities, he asked that the SPP officials provide a status report on how SPP is addressing storage facilities.
Executive Director Texel next told the Board that the request for proposals (RFP) for the SPP engineering consultant is scheduled to be posted on the Department of Administrative Services’ (DAS) website sometime today. The next important date in the RFP schedule is that written questions are due by March 1. The Board will have until March 15 to post responses to the questions. The proposal/bids will be opened virtually on March 29. Any potential bidders cannot contact a Board member or staff with questions about the RFP. Any questions must be submitted to DAS’s Materiel Division. The current contract will end on June 30, 2021. The RFP caps the bids at an amount that is approximately three percent above the current contract compensation amount.
The next agenda item was to discuss the bills introduced in the Legislature this session.
LB 83 was introduced by Senator Flood. The bill would amend the Open Meetings Act to provide for virtual conferencing. The Board members discussed the use of videoconferencing due to the pandemic. Executive Director Texel told the Board he had testified at the hearing on the bill regarding several technical issues. One issue dealt with the lack of definition of a term. Another pertained to the meaning of a phrase. The last issue was that a phrase used in current law was changed in one place in the bill, but remained in another place, and it was not clear what the new phrase is intended to mean. The Board is neutral on the bill. Following his testimony Senator Brewer, Chair of the Government, Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee, asked the executive director to provide a synopsis of his issues to the Committee Counsel. A copy of the memo to the Committee Counsel was provided to the Board members.
LB 112 was introduced by Senator Albrecht. It would require that members of the public be allowed to speak at each meeting subject to the Open Meetings Act. This would include PRB meetings, although the PRB already allows members of the public to speak at every PRB meeting.
LB 257 was introduced by Senator Hansen. This bill changes provisions relating to vacancies on public power district and public power and irrigation district boards. Under current law, if a district has fewer than 25 cities in its chartered territory, the remaining board members choose a replacement to fill the vacancy, while the Governor appoints a replacement for vacancies if the district has 25 or more cities in its chartered territory. LB 257 would authorize the remaining board members to fill a vacancy for all public power districts.
LB 266 was introduced by Senator McCollister. This bill would adopt the “Renewable Energy Standards Act.” It would require Nebraska electric utilities to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It would exempt a public power supplier from the net-zero carbon emission standard if the supplier’s board of directors determines that compliance would negatively affect the operation of the supplier’s power system. Executive Director Texel pointed out that although the bill applies to all public power suppliers, the section allowing for an exemption cites only to a finding by the power supplier’s “board of directors”. This would not include municipalities, which have a village board or city council. The term “governing body” would include all power suppliers. Also, on page 3, lines 25-27 of the bill, it provides that the definition of the term “renewable energy generation facility” includes “The transmission and distribution facilities necessary to conduct the energy produced by a facility described in subdivision (3)(a) of this section to users.” Technically, this definition is broad enough that the entire transmission and distribution grid in the State could arguably be defined to be part of a “renewable energy generation facility”. All Board members agreed that the executive director was authorized to submit a letter to the Committee outlining the issues he had identified. The Board also wanted the executive director to testify at the Committee hearing so that he could answer any questions the Committee members may have.
The Board then had a discussion about electric storage facilities. Joe Lang, Director of Energy Regulatory Affairs with the Omaha Public Power District, commented to provide the Board with information about storage facilities, and some concerns about the definitions involved. The Board discussed among its members the possible definition of a storage facility and how it would fall under the Board’s statutes. Vice Chairman Hutchison stated that he thinks a guidance document needs to be drafted to address how the PRB will treat a storage facility. That would help utilities or developers who are not certain how the Board will address a request to build or install a storage facility. All Board members agreed the executive director should draft a guidance document in accordance with the Board’s discussion.
Executive Director Texel then told the Board that Chairman Reida had asked to bring up that there is a conflict with the October 18 meeting date. Both Chairman Reida and Mr. Texel usually attend the American Public Power Association’s Legal and Regulatory Conference. The conference this year will be October 18 to 20. Due to this, it would be helpful if the Board would move its October meeting date. Mr. Grennan said the RSC quarterly meeting is October 25 and 26. The meeting cannot be on Monday, October 11 because that is the Columbus Day holiday. All Board members agreed to move the October meeting from the 18th to the 15th.
The Board’s next public meetings will be March 8, April 12, and May 10, 2021.
Mr. Grennan moved to adjourn the meeting. Vice Chairman Hutchison seconded the motion. Voting on the motion: Chairman Reida – yes, Vice Chairman Hutchison –yes, Mr. Grennan – yes, Ms. Loutzenhiser – absent, and Mr. Moen – yes. The motion carried 4-0 with one absent. The meeting was adjourned at 12:23 p.m.
Timothy J. Texel
Executive Director and General Counsel