An Electric Utility's Role in Addressing Climate Change

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report aimed at, in part, summarizing the impacts of a 1.5˚C increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels. Their findings were nothing short of alarming.
Impacts on natural and human systems have already been observed, and Nebraska is not immune from the effects of climate change. As reported in the University of Nebraska’s 2014 report, Understanding and Assessing Climate Change Implications for Nebraska, researchers are expecting, among other things, an increase in heavy precipitation events, a drying trend in the summer, and a 5 – 10% decrease in soil moisture. All of which could have a negative impact on Nebraska’s economic engine: the agricultural industry.
OPPD’s mission is to provide reliable, affordable, environmentally sensitive energy services to our customer owners. As it relates to environmental sensitivity, OPPD has made great strides in recent years, which has reduced its sizable greenhouse gas emissions.
In the last year alone, OPPD rolled out an electric vehicle rebate pilot program, announced its first community solar project, partnered with UNMC and Nebraska Medicine to prepare for installation of the state’s largest rooftop solar array, and, perhaps most importantly, started construction on a new 160 MW wind farm near Wayne, NE. This latest wind project, The Sholes Wind Energy Center, will bring OPPD to 40% of its retail sales coming from renewable energy sources.
Despite the exceptional progress, there is still much to do.
As a member of OPPD’s board of directors, I view it as an amazing opportunity to take a meaningful role in solving one of the world’s biggest, most complicated problems.
I believe there are three primary ways in which OPPD can play a role. First, we can continue our migration away from fossil fuels to cleaner fuel sources, and I believe we should set our sights on a long-term goal to produce carbon-free electricity.
Getting to carbon-free will not be easy. Technologies such as batteries will need to improve, and we must consider and plan for a positive impact on our employees. Among our biggest challenges will be meeting the other two pillars of our mission: reliability and affordability. It can be a delicate balance, but it’s a balancing act that, in my view, we must undertake.  
Second, I believe we should play a catalytic role in driving a broad transition to an electricity-driven world. Electric vehicles in particular present an immense opportunity for OPPD to help reduce transportation-related emissions and to increase the OPPD's revenue. Once again, the challenge is balancing the significant impacts that such a transition will have on our grid, which the current EV pilot is intended to better understand and help us plan for.
Finally, I believe that OPPD can and should continue to play an increasingly active role in helping our customer owners be more energy efficient. The cleanest kilowatt hour is the one never produced, and affordability is best defined as what a customer-owner pays per month, not per kilowatt hour.
The IPCC authors found that if emissions continue at the current pace, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 1.5˚C by 2040, resulting in, among other things, inundated coastlines, intensified droughts and poverty, and near elimination of the planet’s coral reefs. What’s notable is that the 2040 timeframe is well within most of our lifespans. Let there be no mistake, climate change is here. Now. And it’s time for all of us to act.
As many of you know, the board is currently taking comments on a draft of its environmental stewardship strategic directive. While the directive doesn’t go so far as the vision I outlined above, it is a good step forward. Read more about the draft directive here, and provide comments by 11/4 here.