Perspectives on the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant

A mere two days after the primary election, OPPD Management announced they were recommending to the Board that the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant be closed, and at yesterday’s board committee meetings, OPPD Management formalized that recommendation and added more detail on how to close the plant down (see committee report here). On Thursday, June 16 the Board will take action on those recommendations, and it seems clear that they will indeed vote to close the plant.

As I said many times on the campaign trail, the economics of the plant were not working in its favor. It was costing OPPD anywhere from $70 - 90/megawatt hour to create electricity whereas the District is able to purchase a megawatt hour on the open market (via the Southwest Power Pool) for $20.

OPPD is required by the Southwest Power Pool to have generating capacity that equals its annual peak demand plus 13.6% (see the dotted lines in the image below). They are currently over that threshold and with the 400 megawatts  of generation from the Grand Prairie Wind Farm coming online later this year, OPPD will have more than enough capacity to meet its customers needs. All the excess generation is sold on the open market, and when you’re generating power at 2 - 3 times the cost for which you can sell it, that just flat out doesn’t work.

OPPD's 2025 projections for Baseline and Rebalanced capacity and generation. 

OPPD's 2025 projections for Baseline and Rebalanced capacity and generation. 

Closing the plant will still cost $1 billion+ dollars and take several years. You can’t just lock the door and throw the keys in the river. Much needs to be done to safely shut it down. Nevertheless, on the whole, the decision to close the plant is a sound one. Other issues remain, however.

OPPD’s labor force will take a huge hit as a result of the plant closure, which is of great concern. Many of the people that work there, and I’ve talked with a few, aren’t in a position to retire. They’ll need to continue working. I am hopeful that OPPD management and the board does everything that it can to ensure the employees of Fort Calhoun are taken care of.

I’ve talked with many people involved in or impacted by the decision to close the plant, and I remain confident that there’s an opportunity to more effectively communicate decisions such as this to a broader group of people, especially those directly impacted. There is no doubt that there’s a difficult balance to be struck between sharing every last detail vs. keeping every decision close to the vest. I simply feel that we could let the pendulum swing a bit more toward transparency and openness.

Finally, the district projects that it will reach 49% of its generation using renewable fuel sources (primarily wind) by 2020. I remember the days in the not-too-distant past when OPPD was boasting about its 10% renewable energy goals for 2020. So to see that they’ll be at nearly 50% in four short years is great news, and I hope to see that number rise in the future.  

In the end, it’s a very difficult decision, especially given the number of impacted families - both directly and indirectly in the Fort Calhoun area. It is, however, the right decision, and I support it.