An Ashland City Council member will challenge a Blair resident for a seat on the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Board of Directors in the November election.
Janece Mollhoff is seeking the Subdivision 7 seat currently held by incumbent Mick Mines. Subdivision 7 represents all of Washington County and portions of Burt, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders counties.
Mollhoff's term on the Ashland City Council ends in November. She said serving on the OPPD board seemed like “a natural progression.”
“I want to continue serving,” Mollhoff said. “I've been serving my whole life.
Mollhoff, a career nurse and retired Army colonel, said for the last three years she has worked as an observer at the three largest power companies in Nebraska — Nebraska Public Power District, Lincoln Electric System and OPPD. She has also advocated in support of public power and other energy issues at the Nebraska Legislature.
Mollhoff wants to be a voice for the small communities and rural areas in the district.
“It doesn't seem like the focus has been on the small communities and rural areas in the district,” she said. “Certainly, large areas of the district are rural and small towns.”
In June 2016, OPPD made the decision to close the Fort Calhoun Station (FCS). Mollhoff said it appeared that the district “threw a lot of money out.”
“I know they wanted to keep it open. They were trying to keep it open. Base load is important, but the amount of money they spent and what they got for that was a plant that closed anyway,” Mollhoff said. “From the outside looking in, it looks like a lot of money that was not well spent.”
Mines, who is seeking his second six-year term, was on the board when the decision was made to restart FCS in 2013. That decision was made, he said, because the Clean Power Plan, a policy instituted by the Obama administration, was providing credits for energy that didn't contribute to carbon emissions.
“We were hopeful, as an industry, nuclear power would get credit for not contributing to carbon emissions,” he said. “That's why we brought it in, understanding that the cost of production is higher, but with credits from the government we could afford to continue operating.”
But that didn't happen and operations at the plant ceased in October 2016.
“When you look at the raw facts, we just couldn't continue to keep it open,” he said.
Mines, who has served as board chairman, vice chairman, secretary and currently serves as treasurer, said the industry is changing quickly, causing OPPD to make dramatic changes in the way it serves customers and delivers services.
“We're not done. There is still quite a bit to do,” he said. “I would like to see this through another six years as we transition into distributed energy and even greater renewable energies, and the workforce is really important to me because they are the backbone of the company.”
Solar power is gradually becoming part of the portfolio and the district is continuing to add wind energy.
“By 2020, 50 percent of our generation will be from wind,” he said. “It's a big deal.”
Both candidates are passionate about the position.
“I'm fully committed to this,” Mollhoff said. “When I'm doing my volunteer work, I'm 100 percent in. When I'm on the OPPD board, I'll do my homework, I'll read the packets, I'll study the issues, I'll make sure I know exactly what I'm voting on when I'm voting.”
“I believe it is an important job,” said Mines, a former state senator and Blair mayor. “We do fly under the radar. We're not managing the business of OPPD. Too many people believe that is the case. We're elected to ensure that we provide reliable power at an affordable rate and also make sure that we're environmentally sensitive as we can be.”