ACE: 20 years of looking out for Nebraskans

February 26, 2018

ACE, the Public Alliance for Community Energy, will mark its 20th year of participating as a natural gas supplier in the Nebraska Choice Gas program in April.

ACE formed out of a strong desire by a small group of communities to provide competitive natural gas rates, local control and a possible revenue return to Nebraska communities. Those remain as ACE cornerstones today.

“PACE will ensure competition in the marketplace and give communities the chance to exercise control over natural gas prices,” said the late Gary Lay, director of member services and marketing, back in 1998 when ACE (formerly known as PACE) began.

Shortly after forming, many more communities joined, boosting membership to more than 50 charter communities. ACE’s membership today stands at 72 communities and one public power district.

“There was a lot of unrest with the gas business in the state of Nebraska, cost-wise and distribution-wise – the cost was sky-rocketing,” recalled Paul Markowski, utility superintendent for the City of Ord, Neb., an ACE charter member. “At that time the local gas provider decided that they were going to come up with a choice program... a few of the communities got together and saw an opportunity within NMPP (Energy) of adding competition.”

To get ACE off the ground as an organization, communities paid a start-up fee, which was reimbursed to the communities after just five years.

“At that time, the city council and city fathers thought it was important to the city of Ord to provide competition for our gas supply to try and get cheaper (gas) for our community,” said Markowski.

“Sitting in on the start of it and looking at it now, there’s no way we even dreamt we would still be in existence,” he said. “We started from scratch and a lot of other communities liked what we were doing and then it progressively grew. Nowhere in our imagination we would have dreamt that we would have the membership that we do now.”

In addition to providing competitive rates and local control to residents, ACE serves as an advocate on behalf of Choice Gas customers and provides a possible revenue stream back to Nebraska communities, instead of having profits go to out-of-state shareholders like an investor-owned gas supplier.

The ACE Board of Directors recently approved returning $250,000 back to member communities, bringing the total revenue returned to Nebraska communities more than $2 million. These funds have been used over the years to fund a variety of community projects such as parks, playgrounds, youth programs and infrastructure improvements.

Through the years, natural gas suppliers competing in the Choice Gas program have come and gone, but ACE and its mission has remained a constant, serving as an example of communities working together in a grassroots effort to benefit consumers by ensuring competition, local control and keeping money in Nebraska communities.