In the early 1960s, before LES came to be, two rival utilities powered Lincoln: Consumers Public Power District and the City Light and Water Department.
Because they competed to serve customers, each had its own infrastructure delivering electricity to homes and businesses. That meant twice as many power lines, poles and wires than Lincoln needed if it were run by one utility.
The mess of lines cluttered Lincoln’s streets and alleyways and, along with being unsightly, led to numerous unnecessary power outages.
While public power utilities pride themselves on low rates, high reliability and efficient construction, it took a long time and hard work for Lincoln to reach these standards.
After years of dealing with the dueling electric providers, the City purchased the system from CPPD. On Feb. 1, 1966, Lincoln Electric System began powering Lincoln and surrounding areas as a single entity.
Area residents continued taking control of their power by voting to establish the LES Administrative Board in 1970. Local citizens, appointed by the mayor, served on the Board to ensure local peoples’ voices were heard. Just as today, each Board member was appointed to represent fellow customer-owners.
The accountability and transparency afforded by a Board of customers who live and work within the service area is a cornerstone of public power. Accountability through the accessibility of utility leadership to the customers they represent and serve — their neighbors, families and friends. Transparency through the sunshine laws that make our Board meetings and records open to those customer-owners — a far cry from the shareholder focus at privately owned utilities.
“Our shareholders are our customers,” said LES CEO Kevin Wailes. “An investor-owned utility has a different way of looking at critical issues because their priority is profit for their shareholders who are likely not their customers. Our priority is to provide our customer-shareholders the best service and the best value possible. The reality of it is local people serving local people.”
FOCUSING ON VALUE
LES has worked to diversify its power generation portfolio and find efficiencies in its local plants to maintain affordable retail electric rates and high reliability of its service.
Buying power can be volatile if a utility relies on just one fuel source, such as coal, natural gas, wind, solar, etc. That’s why LES powers Lincoln with a balanced array. The utility’s nameplate capacity is made up of 1/3 renewables, 1/3 coal and 1/3 natural gas.
A LOCALLY MINDED LEGACY
On behalf of the community, LES has operated the electric system guided by the values of safety, reliability, affordability, integrity and environmental stewardship. All of those factors help bring new economic development to our community while nurturing growth and prosperity.
From working with local residents to bringing energy to Lincoln, LES’ public power history puts people — not profits — first.
“What’s key as a community-owned utility is that we’re matching the values of our community to the services we provide,” Wailes said. “That’s something only we can do.”