Power With Purpose
Power with Purpose is part of OPPD’s unwavering mission to provide affordable, reliable, and environmentally sensitive energy services to customers.
- Reliability, keeping the lights on
- Resilient and affordable energy, while being environmental stewards
- Staying at the forefront of rapidly changing technology and industry
OPPD is embarking on a decarbonization planning process to understand how we can make progress toward our goal of net zero carbon production by 2050, while staying true to our mission.
At the same time, we are moving forward on siting and developing new solar and natural gas generation that will help meet the near-term energy needs of our community. We are working hard to do our part and be a catalyst for change in our communities.
For over 70 years, OPPD has been where the light starts. We serve more than 846,000 people in 13 counties, making OPPD the 12th largest public power utility in the U.S.
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Historically, OPPD’s generation portfolio has been coal dominant and included nuclear; however, the energy sector has been undergoing transformative change. Today, OPPD is on track to generate 40% of electricity for retail sales from renewable sources. This is four times what it was ten years ago, and well above our original renewable energy target. We continue to lead the way in Nebraska, the region and beyond. We’ve accomplished a lot – but we continue to work improving environmental performance.
Powering our Future: Solar + Natural Gas
In November 2019, OPPD’s Board of Directors approved a plan to add utility-scale solar, with natural gas backup, to its generation portfolio. We will add up to 600 megawatts of utility-scale solar, as well as up to 600 megawatts with replacement gas backup, allowing us to move forward with retiring our oldest, coal-fed units at North Omaha Station and continue to integrate more renewables into the system. Though we’re still in the early planning phases, we’re getting the conversation started about these new power generating facilities now.
OPPD has released a request for proposal to renewable energy developers to explore options for developing new solar generation. Developers will propose alternatives with different capacities, locations, and costs, each of which will be modeled to compare impacts to energy system reliability and our ability to keep rates affordable. OPPD will review proposals and complete evaluation and modeling in early 2020.
New natural gas facilities will provide greater operating flexibility and enable OPPD to further integrate renewable energy into our portfolio, while maintaining affordability, reliability and resiliency. Specifics for the natural gas facilities will depend on the size and location of the solar project(s), so planning will ramp up once that is determined. Energy system modeling will determine the best location to complement new solar generation and enhance energy system reliability.
We anticipate a combination of new natural gas backup facilities, as well as refueling some of OPPD’s coal assets with natural gas as the oldest units at North Omaha Station retire. Each facility will be equipped with technology that can quickly adjust output and balance our portfolio of renewables.
Decarbonization Planning Study
OPPD is embarking on a decarbonization planning process to understand how we can make progress towards our goal of net zero carbon production by 2050 while staying true to our mission.
We are looking at ways to reliably meet current and growing demands for electricity, understand customer expectations and preferences for how energy is generated, all while continuing to provide affordable and reliable power in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Over the coming months, OPPD will be providing opportunities for our customers and community to learn more about the study and provide feedback on specific elements of the plan as it develops.
How will OPPD meet its goal of net zero carbon production by 2050? That question is at the very heart of our study. This planning study will prioritize ambitious, yet realistic actions we can take and identify feasible timeframes - without sacrificing affordability and reliability.
Decarbonization is about more than renewable energy, and it’s bigger than OPPD. We’ll continue to explore opportunities to improve energy efficiency for residential and commercial users. We’re thinking big picture, trying to understand our role in electrifying transportation and managing distributed energy resources. We are committed to community conversations on how we can work together towards a shared vision.
As a public utility, we’re in this together. We’re listening to understand customer expectations and inform our decarbonization strategy. We’d like to hear from you!
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do solar panels generate electricity?
Each solar panel contains photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into energy by producing direct current (DC) electricity. Energy generation from solar panels is affected by seasonal variance in daylight hours and weather, such as overcast or rainy days.
- How will OPPD generate electricity at night or when the sun isn’t shining?
Because solar panels require sunlight to generate electricity, OPPD relies on other generation resources, such as wind turbines and natural gas units, and coal to generate electricity at night or on cloudy days. OPPD manages a combination of power generation technologies to provide power to our customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
- Will solar panels withstand Nebraska weather, such as thunderstorms with high winds and hail?
OPPD is specifying minimum structural design standards to withstand high winds. Similarly, the solar panel industry has put significant research and development into designing solar panels that are not as susceptible to hail damage.
- I heard solar energy is expensive. Has it become more affordable?
OPPD continually evaluates the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of power technologies, including solar. The average cost per kilowatt of energy produced from solar panels has decreased significantly in the past few years. Utility-scale solar energy is now projected to be cost-competitive.
- Is Nebraska a good place to install solar panels, given our geographic location and weather?
Though Nebraska may not have the intensity of sun as compared to states in the southwestern United States, there is still plenty of solar power potential. Data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows Nebraska to have comparable, and in some cases, better solar potential (based on solar irradiance data) to states in the southeast part of the country. Additionally, advancements in tracking and inverter technologies allow solar design firms to better optimize the amount of sun that is actually captured.
- Where will the solar power facility be located?
OPPD is asking for RFP responses that span the options from OPPD ownership to purchased power arrangements; thus, location cannot be determined at this time.
- Solar panels take up a lot of space for the energy they generate. How much land will the solar facility require?
Generally, five to seven acres of land are required to generate one megawatt of solar power, though there is some variance, depending on location.
- Are solar facilities a nuisance for adjacent property owners?
Solar facilities are seen but not heard, and require very little maintenance. While a solar facility will change the viewshed, it will not increase noise or traffic for adjacent property owners.
- What equipment will be needed to generate solar power, aside from the panels themselves?
Solar facilities require very few components to generate electricity. Racking systems are installed to secure the solar panels to the ground and align the panels at the proper tilt to optimize exposure to the sun. Blocks or rows of panels are connected to inverters, which convert the direct current (DC) electricity output from the solar panels into alternating current (AC), which is usable by our customers. Lastly, onsite transformers deliver medium-voltage power using underground cables to a nearby substation or other interconnection point to the power grid.
- What is the difference between OPPD’s Community Solar program and the recent announcement of adding utility-scale solar?
With OPPD Community Solar, you get affordable solar energy for you, personally, to offset your energy use with clean, renewable power without the expense of putting solar on your home. This program allows customers to offset their own usage with renewable energy beyond OPPD’s blended generation portfolio, which today includes coal, natural gas, hydro and wind. For more information, visit Community Solar Program.
Utility-scale solar meets a different need. As OPPD plans new generation to meet its load growth in the region, many generation technologies were considered to solve the need for accredited capacity and maintaining system reliability and resiliency. OPPD has successfully integrated utility-scale wind for the past 10 years, which has helped OPPD continue to make progress toward the Board of Directors’ set goal of 50% of retail sales served by renewable energy. OPPD’s recent announcement of utility-scale solar is to add generation capacity in the way that coal, natural gas and wind support customer demand today.
- Why didn’t OPPD wait to launch Community Solar if you knew a utility-scale solar farm was coming?
The OPPD Community Solar program meets a different need than that of a utility-scale solar power plant. The community solar program was developed in response to OPPD customers’ desire to have a solar facility in which they could participate. The utility-scale solar is a power plant that will become part of OPPD’s 2,691 megawatts (MW) of generation capability.
I’ve been contacted by a solar provider or a developer who claims to be working with OPPD on solar projects. What is this about?
Although OPPD has recently released a request for proposals (RFP) for our large scale utility solar project, we are not currently working with any solar provider or developer.
I received a letter in the mail from a residential solar panel provider, who claims to be working with OPPD, offering me services. What is this about?
That offer is not related to OPPD’s plans for utility-scale solar power or community solar. OPPD is not "working with" any residential solar panel provider, although OPPD does have contact on a regular basis from some residential solar panel providers. We recommend that our customers proceed cautiously, as they would for any major purchase. OPPD is always available to answer questions on energy-related matters. The customer service number is (402) 536-4131 within the Omaha area or 1-877-536-4131, toll-free, outside of the Omaha area.
- How does adding a new natural gas facility impact OPPD’s progress towards reducing carbon intensity and the Pathway to Decarbonization study?
Natural gas assets will play an important role in our Pathway to Decarbonization. The proposed asset is not considered baseload, meaning OPPD will operate the facility as needed for capacity. The flexibility it provides will enable OPPD to further integrate renewable energy into our portfolio, while maintaining reliability and resiliency.
- Who will own the natural gas facility?
OPPD will own and operate the natural gas facility.
- How often will the natural gas facility operate?
Our units are dispatched by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) as the balancing authority based on regional and local needs on the grid. These units are necessary for capacity and will be dispatched based on market conditions.
- How will the new natural gas assets be different from those already in OPPD’s fleet?
The new natural gas facilities will produce energy much faster than North Omaha 1-3, and thus will produce less emissions during startup. Additionally, newer units can increase power generation faster to stabilize the transmission system quicker, in order to adjust to the variable output of wind, solar generation and other market conditions at the time.
- Where will the natural gas facility be located?
Though the exact location of the natural gas facility has not yet been determined, we expect it will be located within OPPD’s service territory.
- Will the new natural gas facility also require a new pipeline?
As part of the RFP process, OPPD will evaluate potential locations for the new natural gas facility. The availability of existing pipelines is one of many factors considered when evaluating potential locations, and the need for additional pipelines will not be known until a site is selected.
- Why must OPPD act now?
OPPD’s recommendation to issue RFPs for new utility-scale solar and backup natural gas assets is to meet the projected near-term capacity and resiliency needs.
- How will the addition of new utility-scale solar and natural gas facilities impact OPPD’s carbon intensity?
OPPD’s preliminary estimate is that the project will achieve a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 2010 levels. New assets will create 80-90% less CO2 emissions than the assets being replaced. OPPD will continue to refine projected impact on carbon intensity based on responses to the RFP.
- Is this recommendation part of OPPD’s Pathways to Decarbonization Study?
OPPD is in the early phase of the 18-24 month Pathways to Decarbonization study. While this recommendation is not a direct outcome of the decarbonization study, it is consistent with the study’s intent. Specifically, the recommendation includes building the largest solar power presence in the region, adding a new natural gas asset that will serve an important role in allowing OPPD to further integrate renewable energy, and achieving a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 2010 levels.
- If OPPD moves forward with this recommendation, what percent of the portfolio will come from renewable resources?
OPPD anticipates that building a utility-scale solar facility will displace generation at non-renewable facilities and will continue progress towards our goal of achieving 50% of retail sales from renewable energy. The impact on our total renewable portfolio as a percent of total power generating capacity will be determined based on responses to the RFP.
- How did large projects like the Facebook and Google data centers influence OPPD’s recommendation?
Load growth is just one of the factors behind OPPD’s recommendation to add accredited generation capacity, and OPPD would still need to add accredited generation capacity without the recent growth in our industrial class. Promoting economic development is a key part of OPPD’s mission, helping to strengthen communities in our service territory. Large, steady power loads such as those needed by data centers help use OPPD’s assets more efficiently to the benefit of all customers and act as a catalyst for evolving our generating portfolio.
- Why are the new solar and natural gas facilities considered a single project?
OPPD needs to increase accredited capacity with SPP to meet legal and regulatory requirements. Not all installed solar capacity can be accredited due to seasonal and daily variation in power output. However, when coupled with natural gas generation, OPPD can meet the minimum accredited capacity requirements while optimizing affordability, reliability/resiliency, and environmental sensitivity. The solution is not satisfactory if not implemented contemporaneously.
- What other power generation technologies were evaluated?
OPPD’s modeling process was technology agnostic, meaning that a wide variety of power generation technologies were considered, including: combustion turbines, reciprocating engines, photovoltaic solar, battery storage, combined cycles, wind turbines, coal and nuclear. The energy system modeling software analyzed millions of combinations of these technologies with existing assets, new voltage-support resources, and demand-side management alternatives.
- Why did OPPD decide to decommission Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station and North Omaha Units 1-3 when doing so requires additional power generation facilities to be constructed?
The decision to decommission Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station was based on the high operating costs and commitment to keeping rates affordable. The decision to decommission North Omaha Units 1-3 was based largely on the desire to reduce OPPD’s emissions.
- Will the power generating facilities impact any of OPPD’s other existing power plants? Or allow OPPD to decommission all existing coal-fired power plants?
OPPD needs to increase accredited capacity with SPP beyond our existing capacity to meet legal and regulatory requirements. Therefore, adding utility-scale solar and natural gas facilities is in addition to OPPD’s existing portfolio. OPPD will carry out the 2014 board decision to refuel North Omaha units 4 and 5 from coal to gas and to retire units 1-3. At this time, there are not additional plans to decommission other coal-fired power plants in OPPD’s portfolio. However, we intend to further evaluate the pathway and implications of the next steps to decarbonize our generation fleet as part of our decarbonization study.
- Why isn’t OPPD recommending to buy additional wind energy as was done previously?
OPPD’s modeling process evaluated additional wind capacity as an alternative. Off-system wind, meaning wind power located outside of OPPD’s service territory, was not recommended because additional wind power would not satisfy our accredited capacity needs coupled with the resiliency requirements.
- How is OPPD engaging stakeholders through this process?
Sharing OPPD’s recommendation to add additional solar and natural gas generation is part of our ongoing stakeholder engagement process. In 2019, OPPD accepted public comment via OPPDListens.com to gauge customer understanding of what we’re trying to solve, the framework that shapes our decisions and the clarity of the analysis. We will provide regular updates as the process moves forward.
- Will these power generation facilities require a rate increase?
The recommendation to issue RFPs for new utility-scale solar and the requested natural gas assets does not impact OPPD’s commitment to no general rate increase through 2021.
- Will the power generating facilities require additional transmission lines?
As part of the RFP process, OPPD will evaluate potential locations for both the solar and natural gas facilities. The availability of existing transmission lines is one of many factors considered when evaluating potential locations, and the need for additional transmission lines will not be known until sites are selected.
- Could energy storage/batteries be used with the solar facility instead of natural gas generation?
OPPD continually evaluates the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of power technologies, including energy storage and batteries. Battery storage was included in the modeling process to identify technologies that optimize affordability, reliability/resiliency, and environmental sensitivity; however, battery storage was not recommended because it does not meet multi-day resiliency needs and costly at this time. Furthermore, policy regarding battery capacity accreditation is not finalized within SPP. That said, OPPD is planning to include design specifications for these solar and natural gas facilities that will easily allow battery integration in the future.
- What is a voltage-support device? Why do you need it?
Voltage refers to the pressure from a power source to deliver electricity. Using water as an analogy, think of voltage as the water pressure in pipes. Just like you expect consistent water pressure when you turn on a faucet, OPPD uses voltage-support devices to maintain a consistent quality of electricity for our customers.
- OPPD mentions both increasing demand and the need for additional capacity. What is the difference?
Demand is the amount of electricity (or energy) that OPPD’s service area requires to meet customer needs. Generally speaking, peak demand, or the day OPPD’s service area requires the most electricity, occurs during the summer when the days are longer and hotter. Capacity represents how much electricity OPPD can generate if all assets are running at the highest level of output. OPPD is required, per SPP, to maintain a generating capacity reserve margin of 12% above peak demand. This ensures a reliable supply of power in the region.
- What positive impacts will these projects have in the community?
Adding new utility-scale solar and natural gas power generation facilities will benefit all of OPPD’s service territory by contributing to the consistent level of resiliency in the energy system, while optimizing affordability, reliability and environmental sensitivity. In the short term, large capital projects such as these also provide economic benefits to regional businesses for design and construction-related services. Local hospitality and retail businesses also benefit from the construction activity in the area.
- Will this project raise my rates?
OPPD expects to maintain no general rate increase with these proposed projects. By State statute, OPPD rates are fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory across all customers.