Nebraska’s history of publicly owned power systems dates back almost to the start of commercial electricity distribution in 1882.
New laws and voter support punctuate the history of how it became an all-public power state.
Its history with electricity service began in 1885, when the Nebraska Legislature passed a law allowing local powers over electric lighting and service, according the Nebraska Energy Office in Lincoln.
Local government drew its authority from voters, who in turn could grant the franchise for electric service to their municipal government.
The city of Crete formed Nebraska’s first municipal electric department in 1887. By 1910, Nebraska had a total of 60 municipal electric systems.
A number of factors fueled the popularity of municipal over private electric systems, including broad popular support for local control.
In 1911, municipal systems continued to expand and the first rural cooperatives emerged. While other states formed statewide electric companies, Nebraska and much of the Midwest focused on municipal systems.
However, the first electric holding company entered Nebraska in 1917. Nebraska Power Co., an affiliate of American Power and Light Co., was formed in 1917 in Omaha. Four other holding companies entered the state by 1925.
The trend for municipal utilities collided in the mid-1920s with the consolidation and expansion of the private holding companies in Nebraska.
Voters in the state chafed against the large utility companies. State and federal laws were passed in rapid succession, including Nebraska’s Enabling Act, a key piece of legislation in 1933 that let 15 percent of eligible voters in an area petition for a publicly owned utility.
The Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 forced electricity monopolies to be broken up and restructured.
In 1936, the Rural Electrification Act provided financing for rural electricity projects.
The state also had powerful backing from George Norris, a Republican U.S. senator and representative from Nebraska, helped create the Tennessee Valley Authority, along with the Rural Electrification Act, Nebraska’s unicameral legislature with one house and the state’s public power system.
The investor-owned utilities fought hard against the changes, said Tim Texel, executive director and general counsel for the Nebraska Power Review Board, a regulator for the public electric utility industry.
“The utilities didn’t go away quietly,” he said.
Nebraska became the first and still only U.S. state to have all-public power in 1949.