Power With Purpose
For definitions of industry terms, reference the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Feedback from Customers Deadline Friday, Nov. 8, 2019
Thank you to those that have taken the time to send OPPD your thoughts and comments regarding a proposal to add new utility-scale solar, modernized replacement and back-up natural gas assets, and voltage-support devices. The deadline to submit comments is Nov. 8 at 11:59 p.m.
Since 2014, OPPD has been engaging the public around our strategic directives, resource planning and resource generation. Along the way, OPPD has provided meaningful ways to gather customer-owner input and then use feedback to ensure understanding, address questions and acknowledge any concerns. The journey towards more environmentally-sensitive generation is a result of OPPD’s stakeholder outreach efforts that allowed customers to give feedback on the direction of their public power utility.
In October 2019, President and CEO, Tim Burke shared the need for OPPD to add accredited generation capacity to meet legal and regulatory obligations to serve our customers. The combination of increasing demand across our service area, expiring capacity contracts, and future plans to retire North Omaha Units 1-3 and convert North Omaha Units 4 and 5 to gas-only generation requires that OPPD begin planning now to maintain system reliability and resiliency through these changes. By resiliency, OPPD means a system that remains stable, serving our customers, even in the face of severe weather-related impacts to the electric grid. As an initial step, OPPD intends to issue Request for Proposals (RFP) for new utility-scale solar, modernized replacement and back-up natural gas assets, and voltage-support devices.
This recommendation is based on an extensive modeling process to identify a combination of technologies that optimizes three objectives: affordability, reliability/resiliency, and environmental sensitivity. Responses to the RFP would be used to confirm modeling. The modeling process was informed by OPPD’s strategic directives, guiding principles and is consistent with the intent of the Pathways to Decarbonization Study that was announced in June 2019. Lastly, the recommendations for new utility-scale solar (400 to 600 MW) and natural gas assets uphold OPPD’s commitment to no general rate increase through 2021.
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 would 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.
- Would solar panels withstand Nebraska weather, such as thunderstorms with high winds and hail?
OPPD would specify 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 would the proposed solar power facility be located?
OPPD would ask 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 would 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 would change the viewshed, it would not increase noise or traffic for adjacent property owners.
- What equipment would 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.
- 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 would own the natural gas facility?
OPPD would own and operate the proposed natural gas facility.
- How often would 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 would be dispatched based on market conditions.
- How would the new natural gas assets be different from those already in OPPD’s fleet?
The new natural gas facilities would produce energy much faster than North Omaha 1-3, and thus would 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 would the proposed natural gas facility be located?
Though the exact location of the proposed natural gas facility has not yet been determined, we expect it would be located within OPPD’s service territory.
- Would the new natural gas facility also require a new pipeline?
As part of the RFP process, OPPD would 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 would 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 would the addition of new utility-scale solar and natural gas facilities impact OPPD’s carbon intensity?
OPPD’s preliminary estimate is that the proposed project would 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 would 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 would come from renewable resources?
OPPD anticipates that building a utility-scale solar facility would displace generation at non-renewable facilities and would 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 would 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 recommended solution would not be 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.
- Would the proposed 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, the recommendation to add utility-scale solar and natural gas facilities is in addition to OPPD’s existing portfolio. OPPD would 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. OPPD is accepting public comment on the recommendation via OPPDListens.com through Nov. 8, 2019, and we will provide regular communication throughout the process.
- Would these proposed 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.
- Would the proposed power generating facilities require additional transmission lines?
As part of the RFP process, OPPD would 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 proposed 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 would 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 would these projects have in the community?
Adding new utility-scale solar and natural gas power generation facilities would 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.
OPPD is accepting public comment through Friday, Nov. 8. Public comment will help gauge the level of understanding around the problem we’re trying to solve, the framework that shapes our decisions, the clarity of generation technologies included in the analysis and the understanding of factors in our tradeoff analysis. If providing a comment, we’d appreciate your feedback on the following:
- Is the problem we are solving for understandable?
- Is it clear how OPPD’s Mission, Strategic Directives and legal and regulatory obligations shaped our approach?
- Do you have clarity on what generation technologies were included in our analysis?
- Do you understand the factors in our tradeoff analysis?