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OPPD’s North Omaha Station


Aug 18, 2022


Power with Purpose Reliability Update

As many of you know, the board has been asked to delay the refueling of two coal units at OPPD’s North Omaha Station. We are planning to vote on the recommendation at tomorrow’s 5pm Board meeting.

There are several hours of board discussion publicly available on this topic at OPPD’s youtube channel, including in-depth discussions at our June 14 and August 16 board meetings. Furthermore, a wealth of information is available at OPPD Community Connect and here’s a 6-minute video from CEO Javier Fernandez on the topic.

But while I have you, I’ll offer a very brief summary of the issue and let you know what I’m currently thinking.

The driving force for the proposed delay is a significant backlog in the transmission grid interconnection study process. As you might imagine, OPPD is unable to add new generation (e.g., our Power with Purpose plan) to the grid without formal approval AND subsequent, study-determined enhancements to the transmission grid. Our regional transmission authority, the Southwest Power Pool, is responsible for conducting these studies and determining what transmission upgrades are necessary. In order for OPPD to make the transition at North Omaha, our new generation (namely, two new natural gas facilities currently under construction) must be online, which is not possible without the transmission upgrades.

A few years ago, those studies were taking about 2 years. They're now taking 4-5 years. So, in effect, even if OPPD had all the generation ready to go today, we couldn't bring it online without the completion of the study and subsequent grid upgrades, which is out of our hands. Nevertheless, OPPD is currently completing transmission upgrades in anticipation of the study results; in effect, the district is proactively building new transmission lines to get out in front of it.

So, in effect, after exploring several pathways to mitigate the issue, there are two options on the table:

  1. Proceed with the changes (refueling two units from coal to natural gas, and shutting down three other gas units) at North Omaha Station in 2023.

  2. Delay the planned North Omaha changes by approximately three years.

Neither are desirable. The first will result in significant degradations in the system’s reliability and resiliency (potentially resulting in brownouts and/or blackouts). The second results in another three years of burning coal at the North Omaha Station.

The board has been working to incorporate language into tomorrow’s resolution and in other board policies that effectively establishes an accountability check for ceasing coal operations at North Omaha Station as soon as possible but no later than the end of 2026, creates transparent checkpoints to update the board and the public on progress, and most importantly, includes the following:

“WHEREAS, in accordance with Powering the Future to 2050, OPPD shall engage with local educational, public health, and community-led organizations in carrying out a process that includes engaging the North Omaha community in understanding the benefits and developing action plans to reduce overall impacts related to ongoing operations at North Omaha Station for area residents.”

- OPPD Board

Throughout the last 60 days, I’ve talked with many people about this issue, including at my virtual (thanks, COVID) town hall. When given the opportunity to share all of the details, nearly everyone draws the same conclusions, which are: 1) the delay is necessary, 2) it is disappointing, and 3) there’s a desire to mitigate the impacts on the North Omaha community. The excerpt from the resolution above is intended to do just that.

Many have called for a delay of our vote tomorrow in order to further engage the community so as to understand the impacts that this decision will have on them. I absolutely understand that desire. However, I currently feel it would be better to move forward with the vote on Thursday so that engagement of the North Omaha community can be focused on understanding the impacts and developing plans to reduce overall impacts.

To be clear, I’m not happy. My colleagues on the board are not happy and neither is OPPD’s leadership. Nobody wants to burn more coal in North Omaha. But, unfortunately, a better option simply doesn’t exist. This is a regrettable, unavoidable delay. But we’re firmly committed to reducing emissions and eventually reaching our net zero goal in 2050.


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