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News Releases : OPPD board honors Burke’s 24 years of service to utility

After 24 years of service to Omaha Public Power District, Timothy J. Burke attended his last monthly board meeting as president and CEO today. The OPPD Board of Directors approved a resolution to honor his service to the utility, the last six years as its leader.

Burke will officially step down July 1, with Vice President and CFO Javier Fernandez taking the reins. The board unanimously approved Fernandez for the position last month. He will be OPPD’s 13th CEO.

The board credited Burke with setting OPPD on the right course for the future through his strategic initiative and directive work. They noted that OPPD is financially sound, thanks to process improvement planning and generation work, and the system is resilient, as evidenced by how the utility has handled flooding, a derecho wind storm, the polar vortex and other weather threats.

Under Burke’s leadership, the utility has been recognized nationally as one of the country’s top economic development utilities. His focus on the customer has helped existing customers grow and thrive, while also drawing new companies to the area.

His commitment to community growth led to his appointment as chair of the Greater Omaha Chamber Board in 2020. Within and outside of that role, he has worked to address racial and social disparities. Last summer, Burke joined more than 200 local leaders in the CEOs for CODE initiative. Through this call to action, Burke made a commitment to specific deliverables, including breaking down barriers, creating opportunities, and supporting people of color within our workplaces and communities, among other areas.

The safety of OPPD employees – whether in the office, working remotely, or out in the field – has been of utmost importance to Burke. The utility logged its safest year on record in 2020, despite many changes in the work environment across the utility due to the pandemic.

During the meeting, board members shared their appreciation for Tim and congratulated him. They, as well as members of senior management, did the same in a video that will be posted soon to OPPD.com/boardmeeting.

Power with Purpose update

The Power with Purpose team provided an update on OPPD’s Power with Purpose (PwP) project. It will add 400 to 600 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale solar generation and up to 600 MW of backup, modern natural gas to the utility’s generation portfolio. This capacity is needed to maintain the reliability and resiliency of the system as our communities grow. It also significantly positions OPPD on a path to meet its net-zero carbon goal in 2050.

OPPD selected Siemens Energy to provide two SGT6-5000F combustion turbines to power its new Turtle Creek Station in Sarpy County. Turtle Creek, a simple-cycle turbine facility, will be used as a peaking station, running only as needed per market conditions (estimated at less than 15% of the time). The turbine technology converts natural gas into energy to drive a generator, which produces electricity.

The modern natural gas turbines from Siemens Energy are designed to also run on light fuel oil, adding fuel source resiliency. And they are capable of running on a 30% hydrogen/natural gas blend or biodiesel in support of future technology advancements to further decarbonization of OPPD’s generation assets. The turbines offer low emissions that help OPPD meet its targets and avoid the purchase of additional air pollution control devices. They also have improved operational characteristics, such as fast start-up to rapidly address the influx of renewables and the changing generation needs of the electrical grid.

Construction of both Turtle Creek and Standing Bear Lake Station in Douglas County will be complete and the plants will be energized in 2023.

Battery storage pilot update

The OPPD team behind a battery storage pilot presented an update to the board this week. BRIGHT, which stands for Battery Research Innovation Guided by High-Potential Technologies, will provide beneficial research for OPPD and all Nebraska utilities. Researching utility-scale battery storage also supports OPPD’s Pathways to Decarbonization and Grid Modernization Strategic initiatives.

A $525,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET), awarded in June 2020, helped make this project possible. And the utility recently learned it will receive an additional $75,000 grant from NET for BRIGHT. During its April meeting, the NET Trust Board announced the funding, which comes from Nebraska Lottery revenue. OPPD’s battery storage pilot is one of 113 projects that will receive awards from NET totaling more than $18 million.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $349 million in grants to over 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone – citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses – can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to preserve, protect and restore our natural resources for future generations.

OPPD will work with its owner’s engineer, Fractal Energy Storage Consultants, through sourcing, installation and operation of an approximately two-megawatt-hour battery storage device. It will be housed in a Cass County substation. The utility hopes to award a vendor contract for the project by this fall. The team estimates commercial operation will begin in 2022.

Learn more about the project by visiting the OPPD BRIGHT pilot page of OPPDCommunityConnect.com, OPPD’s community engagement platform.

Other action

In other action, directors: 

  • Approved the May 2021 Comprehensive Financial and Operating Reports, May 2021 meeting minutes, and the June 17, 2021 agenda.
  • Authorized the utility to issue up to $600 million of tax-exempt Senior Lien bonds through December 31, 2022, to generate net proceeds of approximately $640 million for new capital investments and to refinance existing debt.
  • Awarded a contract to Nielsen Construction in the amount of $688,950 for construction services to replace failed underground cable for existing streetlights. The contact is for an initial term of three years, with an option to renew up to three additional one-year contract terms, based on OPPD management’s assessment of the contractor’s performance and pricing. The projected work for the underground streetlight repairs would begin in June 2021.
  • Awarded a contract to Electrical Power Products in the amount of $1,115,711 to provide material and construction services for a substation control building enclosure to support the development of a new 161-kilovolt substation to support load growth and reliability in the Sarpy County area. Materials are expected to be delivered in February 2022, and the substation is projected to be in service in August 2022.
  • Awarded a contract to Peak Contracting Group in the amount of $1,005,324 for foundations, duct lines, and miscellaneous work related to the new substation in Sarpy County referenced in the previous bullet point.
    • Approved rate design changes, including: repealing rider schedule 110M – Residential Housing Rider, effective Aug. 1, 2021; and repealing rider schedule 469W – General Service – Time-of-Use – Waiver option, effective June 1, 2022.
  • Approved compensation adjustments for Juli A. Comstock, vice president - Customer Service, and Lisa A. Olson, vice president - Public Affairs. Comstock received a merit increase of 4.5% as well as a market adjustment of 4%, to bring her salary more in line with similar industry roles. These increases bring her salary to $363,613. Olson received a merit increase of 3%, bringing her salary to $365,204.
  • Reviewed and accepted the district’s annual self-funded health plan report, as required by state statute.
  • Received the monthly President’s Report. You can view this report by visiting OPPD.com/BoardMeeting

Pathways to Decarbonization Energy Portfolio workshops

OPPD hosted a series of public virtual workshops in April and May, providing a deep dive into the Energy Portfolio lane of its Pathways to Decarbonization Study and giving the public insight into the district’s work to meet its goal of being a net-zero carbon utility by 2050, while maintaining affordable, reliable, environmentally sensitive energy services for customers. 

On June 18, OPPD will release a detailed set of assumptions. The information will be posted on OPPDCommunityConnect.com. Feedback from customers via the community engagement platform is welcome until June 26.

OPPD will host another virtual information session on Aug. 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. In that session, utility experts will provide an interim modeling update. Customers may register for this session through OPPDCommunityConnect.com. Two additional workshops will be scheduled later this year to discuss the initial and then final results.

Next board meetings

The next Board of Directors committee meetings are Tuesday, Aug. 17, with the public portion beginning at 10 a.m. The next monthly board meeting is Thursday, Aug. 19, at 4 p.m. (July meetings canceled). Visit OPPD.com/boardmeeting closer to the meeting dates for viewing instructions.