The Power with Purpose initiative calls for the retirement of North Omaha Station units 1-3 and conversion of units 4 and 5 from coal to natural gas at the end of 2023. Many factors impact the decision to extend operations at North Omaha Station in its current state.
OPPD personnel are recommending a delay in the retirement of North Omaha Station (NOS) units 1-3 and the fuel conversion of units 4 and 5 from coal to natural gas until 2026 or until Turtle Creek and Standing Bear Lake are ready and approved to connect to the grid at full capacity. The transition was originally scheduled to occur at the end of 2023.
As Power with Purpose progresses, it has become increasingly clear that Standing Bear Lake (SBLS) and Turtle Creek (TCS) natural gas stations are not likely to meet their original commercial operation date. The Southwest Power Pool’s (SPP) multi-year Generation Interconnection request study backlog continues to be delayed, resulting in even more uncertainty in the timing and ability of any interconnection request to get interim or full interconnection service. In addition, we have experienced challenges, including siting and grading discovery work, which have extended the construction timelines.
OPPD leaders looked at several scenarios related to the operations at North Omaha. Among them was continuing with the intended timeline for the facility by 2023. However, moving in this direction, without the new natural gas facilities online and SPP interconnection approval, would have led to unacceptable grid reliability and resiliency impacts.
Proceeding with the retirement and conversions at North Omaha Station prior to the Power with Purpose generation being operational and fully accredited by SPP could result in NERC compliance violations, and extreme weather events - like the tornadoes of 2017, the two, 100-year floods in 2019 and Winter Storm Uri in 2021 - create significant operational risk. In order to preserve the reliability and resiliency of our system, we believe no changes should occur at North Omaha Station until we have more clarity about the timing of the connection and full accreditation of the two new natural gas plants (SBLS and TCS) to the system. We strongly believe this is the direction we need to go in the short-term to ensure reliability as we continue towards our long-term goals. We are working closely with the board to make them aware of the need to stay the course at North Omaha for now and will address any other barriers as they appear.
Both solar resources and gas resources are critical for reliability and resiliency, especially during times when demand for electricity is highest. Like wind generation in our portfolio today, coal, gas and even hydropower can provide critical, easily dispatchable backup. When wind is generating power, we need less production from these dispatchable resources.
SPP and all other regional transmission organizations must follow federal requirements for evaluation of new generation interconnection and generation retirement requests. The primary purpose for this is to give all generation requests equal access to the transmission system. The SPP Grid Interconnection study is performed in order to determine the potential need for additional transmission related to generation additions by SPP market participants. Standing Bear Lake and Turtle Creek stations may be subject to output limitations if they rely upon SPP’s interim interconnection process. This is true of all generation, both within SPP and throughout the country.
The decision to cease operations at Fort Calhoun Station was based on economics due to FCS being the smallest utility-scale commercial reactor in the United States. The assets replacing FCS are modern and have different operating capabilities and cost less to operate for our customer-owners.
The known facts have changed since 2014. However, our overall direction hasn’t changed. This is about being agile in the face of new and emerging risks to ensure reliability until SBLS and TCS can be fully brought onto the grid, both from a construction and SPP generation interconnection stand point.
With the recent growth in our service territory, we need to keep North Omaha Station available, as it is today to ensure reliability and maintain the required margin above the grid’s expected needs, in accordance with national regulatory requirements.
OPPD’s Power-with-Purpose (PwP) project and the conversion of North Omaha units 4 and 5 from coal to natural gas fuel are important pieces in our plan to reduce emissions. We are as committed as ever to seeing these plans to completion. As a public power utility, we are also charged with providing affordable and reliable energy services to our customers. OPPD is committed to being a leader within our industry as we work to build processes that will reliably execute the energy transformation.
OPPD is still working towards execution of the PwP plan, including the addition of up to 600 MW of solar generation, along with the planned fuel switch and retirements at North Omaha Station. Emission impacts of a delayed timeline will be dependent on both the ultimate interconnection date of the new assets and how the North Omaha Station units are used (capacity factor) until the time of the conversion. OPPD is evaluating dispatch strategies to minimize emissions while still meeting reliability requirements.
We are sensitive to the concerns of all stakeholders, including those who reside near North Omaha Station. However, we also know that this decision will help maintain reliable service – something that benefits all customers. In the coming months and years, OPPD is committed to continuing conversations with community representatives and keeping communication channels open to hear their concerns.
OPPD works hard to minimize the environmental impact of our operations, and we are committed to the ceasing of coal generation at the site – as soon as we can do so without harm to the reliability of our system. We will continue to comply with all applicable environmental permits and regulations at North Omaha Station.
The communities we serve are growing both in population and in the number of businesses that are locating to and growing within our region. These new customers require reliable power, just as our existing customer-owners do, and in order to serve them we need to increase our generation capacity. Certainly, we see growing energy usage in Eastern Nebraska as a result of economic development, but TCS and SBLS are part of the plan to address that growth.
OPPD is committed to being transparent with our employees around this decision, especially those whose work is done at North Omaha Station. Our operations leadership is having regular conversations with employees who work in generation to ensure they feel comfortable with the decision’s impact on their work as well as give them the ability to explore new positions at one of the new, natural gas facilities once they are operational.
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