Ulrich says American Wind Action trying to buy his OPPD board seat after group spends $50,000 touting challenger

Source: By Cole Epley, Omah World-Herald • Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2016

A national political group with a pro-renewable energy bent is pouring $50,000 into an ad campaign to unseat incumbent Fred Ulrich from the Omaha Public Power District board of directors.

The campaign of radio and digital ads supporting OPPD Subdivision 4 challenger Rick Yoder began airing Wednesday afternoon, less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

American Wind Action, based in Washington, D.C., is behind the ads that tout Yoder’s “experience to put Nebraska’s wind potential to work for us.”

Yoder, a sustainability consultant, has supported expanding wind power within the district since he began campaigning during the primary.

But Ulrich said OPPD already supports a robust renewable energy portfolio. The 30-year incumbent said he was surprised by the “significant” outside advertising. The subdivision includes portions of Sarpy County along with Cass, Otoe, Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee and Richardson Counties.

“It’s particularly unsettling that they’d try to buy that seat, since that’s basically what they’re saying,” Ulrich said of the wind power group. “I don’t know how that will go down over here. People are pretty stubborn, and I’m not sure they’d like being bought and sold.”

Yoder acknowledged that the late support from an outside organization could create perception issues among voters, especially because his campaign has been mostly self-funded to this point. But he said he has no quid pro quo arrangement to push a particular agenda if elected.

“Even though many of the people I have talked to are still a little skeptical about wind, it just makes sense,” Yoder said. “It brings in jobs, and it has the potential to reduce local property taxes.”

Plus, Yoder said, “we’re incredibly rich with our own natural resource (in Nebraska) that we don’t utilize as fully as all of the surrounding states.”

Ulrich said candidates in OPPD races typically spend between $20,000 and $25,000, but because his subdivision is primarily rural, raising even that kind of money can be a challenge.

Through Oct. 4, Ulrich’s campaign for the general election had spent $8,110, while Yoder had spent $6,815, according to filings with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

By comparison, candidates Craig Moody and Tom Mulligan, who are seeking to represent portions of west and central Omaha, had spent $34,419 and $33,435 over the same period, respectively.

American Wind Action launched in June and has supported down-ballot wind proponents in states including Colorado and Iowa. The group in July announced it would support U.S. Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, who represents southwest Iowa’s 3rd District, with $200,000 worth of radio and digital ads.

The group “plans to increase the advocacy capacity and political strength of wind energy advocates in 2016 and beyond,” according to a press release announcing its support for Yoder.

“He understands that renewable energy, specifically wind power, will help lower energy costs for Nebraskans and boost the local economy now and for generations to come,” said Sam Enfield and Jeff Clark, two of three board members for American Wind Action, in a joint statement.

Enfield is founder of a company that helps wind developers find financing for projects. Clark is executive director of The Wind Coalition, a renewable energy advocacy group comprising large energy corporations. A third board member, Jim Reilly, is senior vice president for legislative and political affairs for the American Wind Energy Association.