'State of Flux' Could Bring Electric Rate Hikes


The control room at the Platte Generating Station keeps Grand Island powered up. But lately, utilities officials have felt a bit powerless trying to deal with changing EPA rules.
"It's like herding cats," Utilities Director Tim Luchsinger said.
The city spent $3.2 million to deal with nitrous oxide, only to have the courts shoot down the new policy.
Luchsinger said, "Unfortunately the current project we just completed, that rule was stayed and it's been delayed but we were in the course of the project where we had to continue it. Fortunately, it's working out well for us." The EPA says the now–delayed rule would protect 240 million Americans, preventing heart attacks and asthma.
The agency issued a memo last month, saying they have asked the courts to reconsider the issue.
And that has created confusion for those running power plants, which in Nebraska are all publicly controlled.
Luchsinger said, "You have deadlines come and sometimes there's a delay by the court sometimes things are changed, so it's a trying time for us, state of flux." That affects planning for another new rule coming into effect to cut mercury emissions, known as MATS, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
It could cost cities like Grand Island and Hastings big bucks.
Luchsinger said, "We're looking at $40 million for that for capital costs along with operating costs, we're probably looking at $5 million a year that project's going to cost." The money has to come from somewhere. Luchsinger said in Grand Island they will likely put other utilities projects on hold. But the utilities director said they will also have to raise electric rates.
He said, "Partly there will be a rate adjustment, whether that'll be a one time or phased in, something for council to decide." Grand Island went out for bid recently on the next phase. Since they're ahead of schedule, they got good prices.
But they also say rate hikes are probably in Grand Island's future.