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News Releases : OPPD looks to utility-grade solar for bright future

Omaha Public Power District is planning for the future, taking into account a rapidly changing energy landscape, the need to maintain the reliability and resiliency of our electric system, while accommodating the needs of our growing communities.

With those factors in mind, OPPD senior management made several key recommendations to the utility’s board of directors today, including building hundreds of megawatts of utility-grade solar in what would become the largest solar presence in the state, along with natural gas backup. The proposal also includes modernizing some of OPPD’s natural gas assets. Along with these additions, OPPD may also pursue adding voltage-support devices as the grid continues to evolve.

In November, the board will be asked to vote to authorize management to negotiate and enter into procurement contracts. If approved, the process would help determine the exact size and scale of the project. Before they vote, board members want to hear from OPPD customers. More information on the proposed plan is available at oppdlistens.com. An online comment form is available on that website. Comments will be accepted through the end of the day, Friday, Nov. 8.

“This is the latest step in a journey we’ve been on since 2014, when our board of directors approved a thoughtful and thorough generation resources plan,” said OPPD President and CEO Tim Burke. “Since that time, OPPD’s renewable portfolio has grown to nearly 1,000 megawatts of wind energy, and our first community solar program is set to go online soon.”

OPPD has already converted North Omaha Station (NOS) Units 1, 2 and 3 from coal that ran 24/7 to natural gas that is projected to run less than 10% of the time. By 2024, NOS Units 1, 2 and 3 will cease to operate and NOS Units 4 and 5 will be retrofitted to natural gas, to run on a limited basis, during peak times. These collective resource decisions continue to decrease emissions from generation resources serving OPPD customers. In total, OPPD will achieve an estimated 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2010 to 2024.

Additionally, in 2016, OPPD decided to cease operations at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station (FCS), for economic reasons. That same year, the utility announced a five-year general rate freeze.

With all of these changes, OPPD has continued to work toward its mission of providing affordable, reliable, environmentally sensitive energy services to our customers.

At the same time, the utility has a legal obligation to serve all customers in its service territory. And it must follow regulations set by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Southwest Power Pool, which requires that OPPD has 12% capacity above its highest level of peak energy demand. This typically would occur during the hottest days of the summer.

Burke said OPPD’s load has continued to grow and new generation must be brought online to make up for not just retired baseload coal units at NOS and the decommissioning of FCS, but also other generation retirements around the region.

“Our team’s recommendation to the board comes after thoughtful and careful analysis of available technologies, affordability of options and what solutions might best fit our needs,” Burke said. “The result is an approach that truly allows OPPD to lead the way we power the future.”

Strategic Initiatives

Over the past several months’ board meetings, OPPD has shared how it’s mapping out its 10-year strategic plan. Five new strategic initiatives are leading the way, while maintaining a strong focus on our mission of providing affordable, reliable, environmentally sensitive energy services.

At today’s board meeting, Mart Sedky, vice president of Human Capital, spoke about the fifth and final initiative – transforming the workplace. Through this initiative, OPPD will work to determine how our workplace will transform in the rapidly changing utility industry.

“We know that we need to adopt our processes and systems to be more agile and flexible as we move forward in this transformation,” said Sedky.

She noted much of that transformation is being driven by technology, which may require new and different skillsets of employees.

"We want to determine how to best support our team and help ensure a meaningful work experience,” she said.

This final area of focus brings together four previous initiatives, introduced over the past several months.

  • At September’s board meeting, Kate Brown, vice president of Business Technology & Building Services and Chief Information Officer, shared information about another key initiative – technology platform. This involves developing a scalable and secure digital ecosystem that will enable OPPD to extend technology to our customers and employees in a way that we cannot do today.
  • In August, Troy Via, vice president of Energy Delivery, spoke about electric system evaluation and modernization. OPPD will study a number of grid-related areas over the next 18 to 24 months, including maintenance, inspections, smart technology and worker mobility. Reliability and resiliency of the system, affordability, and environmental sensitivity remain top priorities.
  • In July, Juli Comstock, vice president of Customer Service, discussed the customer engagement strategic initiative. It aims to better understand various customer segments, which products and services are valuable to customers, and emerging opportunities that can help OPPD better serve our customers’ future energy needs.
  • In June, Mary Fisher, vice president of Energy Production & Nuclear Decommissioning, spoke about the first initiative, pathways to decarbonization. It includes a long-term study to address the future balance of generation, while reducing the utility’s carbon footprint.

All of these initiatives account for dynamic trends and issues that continue to shape the future of the electricity industry, including carbon emissions and climate change, emerging sources of competition, the future role of electricity markets, smart technology, evolving customer desires, and more. They work together to strengthen OPPD’s operations as we move into the future. Throughout initiative discussions, OPPD remains guided by 15 strategic directives, provided by the board. 

Strategic Directives

Revisions have been proposed for two of OPPD’s strategic directives, and OPPD wants to hear what our customers think through our stakeholder process.

Proposed changes to SD-7: Environmental Stewardship, include adding an aspirational goal for OPPD to be a net-zero carbon emitter by 2050. That year is significant, as current business agreements centered on coal-fired power generation at Nebraska City Station will end in 2049. Additionally, wording changes have been made to SD-8: Employee Relations.

Customers may read through proposed changes by going to our home page at oppd.com. A link to our online comment form is provided. Comments will be accepted through the end of the day, Friday, Nov. 8.

OPPD’s board of directors will carefully consider customer feedback on both directives as they work to finalize changes.

Other action

In other action, directors:

Next meetings

The public portion of next month’s committee meetings will start at 10 a.m., Nov. 12, at Energy Plaza, 444 S. 16th St., Omaha.

If a closed session is needed during committee meetings to discuss sensitive information such as legal or personnel matters in private, committee meetings generally will begin at 8:30 a.m., with a vote to go into closed session immediately. The public portion of the meeting will continue after closed session is completed, at approximately 10 a.m. There may be months where this process is changed, but any such change will be addressed in the official public notice for the meeting.

The next monthly board meeting will be Thursday, Nov. 14, at 4 p.m., also at Energy Plaza.

Both of these meetings are livestreamed at oppd.com as part of the district’s commitment to transparency, while making public meetings accessible and convenient for our customer-owners.