September’s OPPD board meetings were chock-full of important information and discussion, and your input is needed on the board’s strategic directive related to environmental stewardship. Here’s a quick run down on the big stuff.
Draft Revisions to Strategic Directive 7: Environmental Stewardship
At our Tuesday committee meeting, the board spent 2+ hours discussing draft changes to SD7: environmental stewardship. It was a robust discussion that follows several hours of earlier work on the part of the board’s Public Information Committee (on which I serve) and management.
Link to SD7 Presentation
Link to video of committee meeting (SD7 discussion starts at 52:27)
I’m confident we have made some substantial improvements to SD7, which is for the most part being completely rewritten. But the most important element in SD7 is the primary metric we’re using to measure our environmental stewardship and the goal we set for that metric. In the current version, the metric is our percent of retail sales that come from renewable energy. It’s important to note that this only includes retail sales and excludes any sales OPPD makes on the wholesale market. We’re currently over 30% renewable for the year and expect to be at 40% by the end of 2019.
The proposed SD7 shifts us to a metric that measures carbon intensity. More specifically, it takes all of our CO2 emissions for a year and divides them by the total (retail + wholesale) megawatt hours sold in the same year. In essence, it’s a measure of how clean (or dirty) each kWh is. Here’s the formula:
Carbon intensity = Total annual tons of CO2 emissions
Total annual mWh sold
Why the switch? As evidenced by the graph on page 5 of the board presentation and included below, there is not an entirely indirect correlation between increases in % renewables and a decrease in carbon intensity. Furthermore, the thinking is - strictly looking through an environmental lens - increasing renewables is a second order activity that is intended to achieve a higher level purpose of reducing emissions. If we agree on that premise, then why not focus on measuring the higher-level outcome we’re trying to achieve?
There is not agreement that measuring carbon intensity is the right approach. To be sure, there are legitimate arguments to 1) stick with % of renewables or 2) simplify by focusing on only annual tons of CO2 emitted. Whatever we end up choosing, we would continue to measure % of retail sales that are renewable and several other environmental metrics.
Finally, and perhaps more consequential, is the goal. The draft policy sets a goal of pushing carbon intensity to 20% below a 2010 baseline, which generally aligns with what the Clean Power Plan called for. The proposed goal, in my view, does not go far enough. I would like to see a longer-term, more aggressive goal to drive down emissions. In short, I think we should be targeting zero carbon and/or 100% renewable by 2050. But after hours of Public Information Committee debate and discussion, it became clear there wasn’t enough support to get there, so the proposed goal is a compromise.
As evidenced by a recent bit of market research and polling done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities, there is broad support for transitioning to renewable energy, and there is reasonable concern on the part of utilities about how to get there and at what pace. Ultimately, I firmly believe that the long-term goal for all utilities is to find a zero carbon way to provide affordable and reliable electricity, but how we get there and at what pace is the challenge.
The board agreed to send the proposed draft of SD7 out for public comment for four weeks, which means we want to hear from customer-owners before our next board meetings on October 9. Submit your comments here or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Potential Change to Decommissioning
As covered by the Omaha World Herald, we are considering a change to our approach for decommissioning the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. The current plan, called Safstor, calls for us to complete the deconstruction process in roughly 50 years. The proposed change would accelerate that timeframe and have us deconstructing the plant within the next 10 years. In either scenario, casks of nuclear waste would remain safely onsite until 2058.
Financial projections for accelerating our plans are very favorable, and there are many other benefits. This isn’t a done deal, however. OPPD management will bring a final plan to the board at our October board meeting for approval.
UNMC/Nebraska Medicine to Install Solar
I was very excited to learn of UNMC/Nebraska Medicine’s plans to install the state’s largest rooftop solar array on its campus. The panels will generate up to 500 kilowatts of clean energy beginning in 2019. Read more about the project in OPPD’s The Wire story.
Lots of good stuff happening. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Onward and upward!