South Central Public Power District is one of 31 rural electric utilities headquartered in Nebraska.
As an electric utility, South Central PPD is relatively young. Many municipal utilities in Nebraska were organized in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Rural areas were much slower to develop as it was more expensive to extend electric service to all the farms in an area.
The Rural Electrification Administration (REA), created in 1935, changed all that. REA made loans available for electric infrastructure in rural areas to bring electricity and jobs to rural America. While World War II halted the development of these rural electric systems, after the war there was rapid economic and electrical system growth. The state’s need for electricity doubled in just the six years from 1945 to 1951 and then doubled again and again.
The first meeting to discuss the possibility of organizing a rural electric cooperative for Webster and Nuckolls County was held in Red Cloud, NE, on January 10, 1945. With the inclusion of Clay County in the service area for this new electric utility, it was decided that the office for South Central would be established in Nelson to make it more centrally located.
The first REA loan for electric line construction was secured in 1946 and construction began on the first 200 miles of the system we know today as South Central Public Power District. On April 28, 1949, South Central Membership Association’s first distribution line was energized. John L. Scroggin of Oak, President of the South Central Membership Association, closed a switch to turn on the electric power on April 28, 1949 at the Blue Hill substation. This was the big day when electricity first flowed over power lines in rural south central Nebraska.
In 1961, the South Central Membership Association was reorganized as a Public Power District to take advantage of tax and other structural advantages. By 1968, electrical loads had doubled from 1961 levels. Electrical loads doubled again between 1968 and 1977. Profound changes were made to the electrical system to keep pace with this quadrupling of demand. A new 69kV transmission system, 10 substations, and hundreds of miles of distribution lines were built. South Central was an early innovator in irrigation load management in an effort to help control costs and offer lower rates.
Electrical usage changed little during the 1980’s, but South Central PPD found a new way to serve area residents when it became the first Nebraska utility to offer satellite television programming to rural “big-dish” owners in 1987. In 1992, South Central was the first Nebraska utility to contract to offer “direct to the home” digital satellite television programming. During the 10-year term of the original contract, programming and hardware services were offered by South Central at rates well before those of the national service providers. After that contract ended, South Central continued to provide support services to area subscribers under the terms of a service contract until July of 2011 when the second contract ended.
During the late 1990’s, Public Power Districts in Nebraska were discussing ways to better serve Nebraska consumers as part of a “Future Strategies” initiative launched by NPPD. It was determined that the power distribution function could be improved if certain transmission lines and the retail service function for communities the Nebraska Public Power District served at retail within South Central’s footprint were realigned to South Central. The realignment of lines and community service areas began in March of 2000 and was complete by December of that year.
Electrically, the communities were 4.16kV islands in the sea represented by the 12.5kV distribution system the District operated. Simple electrical interconnections between the two systems for the purpose of storm restoration or maintenance were impossible. Likewise, the 34.5kV transmission system acquired from NPPD was incompatible with the system operated by South Central.
South Central had experienced modest increases in electrical usage for both residential and farm accounts it served concurrent with the “Future Strategies” talks during the 1990’s. By the late 1990s, the District’s engineers had determined that NPPD’s 69kV delivery points and the District’s 69kV transmission system would soon be inadequate for large load transfers during periods of high electrical demand if loads on it continued to grow. District engineers saw an opportunity to correct a number of problems and shortcomings by replacing most of the acquired 34.5kV system with carefully planned 69kV lines and substations integrated into the District’s existing 69kV transmission system and by converting the community distribution systems from 4.16kV to 12.5kV and integrating them into the District’s distribution system.
During the decade from 2000 through 2009, 110 miles of the 34.5kV system was replaced by building only 45 miles of 69 kV line. Another 15 miles of 69kV was built to bring power from an additional NPPD high voltage substation into South Central’s transmission system and serve growing rural loads in northwestern Clay County.
In addition to transmission construction during the decade, six new substations were built to better serve both rural and urban consumers as were mile upon mile of distribution feeder and tie line. All community distribution systems were rebuilt to operate at 12.5kV and appropriate distribution ties were constructed to improve reliability.
In 2014, the City of Edgar became the sixteenth incorporated community to be served by South Central Public Power District. Work to integrate the community into South Central’s distribution system is underway.