The Omaha Public Power District Board of Directors discussed succession plans following the recent retirement announcement by President & CEO Timothy J. Burke. Burke will be stepping down July 2 after 24 years at the utility.
Burke took over as OPPD’s 12th CEO in 2015, and he led the utility through a period of growth and transformation. The board will be seeking candidates, internally, to continue the momentum as the utility works to bring Power with Purpose utility-scale solar plans to fruition and as it works toward a goal of being a net zero carbon emitter by 2050, among other strategic planning efforts.
At this week’s board committee meetings, Governance Chair Craig Moody laid out the next steps in the CEO selection process. He said up to four internal candidates will be identified between now and April. The board is seeking input from employees, customers, and other stakeholders on desirable leadership traits. They invite comments from the public through April 6 via the CEO Transition Survey at OPPDCommunityConnect.com or via the contact an executive form.
The board will share a progress report at the next monthly board meeting Thursday, April 15. They will interview candidates in April and May. In May and/or June, the public will be invited to virtual “meet and greet” sessions for the final candidates. The board will make and communicate a final decision. The onboarding and transition for the next chief executive officer will occur from June to July 1.
The utility and its board are committed to communicating with the public across various platforms throughout this process.
Annual financial report
At this Tuesday’s board committee meetings, directors received the district’s annual financial report for 2020.
Among the results:
- Retail revenue: $908.8 million ($52.7 million under budget)
- Off-system revenue: $137.3 million ($26.3 million under budget)
- Other income: $100.3 million ($32.6 million over budget)
In addition, expenses for operations and maintenance for 2020 were $19.6 million less than budgeted. Fuel and purchased power expenses were $44.7 million under budget. Operating income was $24.5 million under budget. And net income for 2020 was $8.9 million over budget.
These variances were largely due to the pandemic, with approximately half of OPPD’s employees working remotely, as well as more customers working from home and using additional electricity.
BRIGHT battery storage pilot update
Today, directors approved the Engineer’s Certification and authorization for OPPD management to negotiate and enter into a contract or contracts for services, material, and construction labor for the battery portion of OPPD’s one-megawatt battery storage pilot. This allows OPPD to bypass the sealed bid process to leverage more expertise and resources in the complex process of technology selection.
The Battery Research Innovation Guided by High-Potential Technologies (BRIGHT) will be located in Cass County, providing innovative research that will benefit not only OPPD, but all Nebraska utilities, with the help of a Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) grant of $600,000, which was awarded to OPPD last June.
The ability to negotiate contracts for battery facilities helps ensure OPPD completes the project according to the timelines set forth in the NET grant.
Pathways to Decarbonization strategic plan update
OPPD continues work on its Pathways to Decarbonization strategic plan, with a goal for the utility to be a net zero carbon emitter by 2050. The board received an update this week on the initiative, which is broken down into four connected projects: Energy Portfolio, Internal Operations, Customer, and Community. The research and input gathered as a result of these projects will inform future decision making regarding carbon reduction.
The community team has looked at other climate action plans throughout six regionally and peer utility relevant communities including Lincoln, Fort Collins, Col., Ann Arbor, Mich., Austin, Tex., and Iowa City. They have examined 928 separate mitigation strategies and refined them to concepts most applicable to our utility and our customer-owners.
Our product marketing team has also researched 227 separate concepts to help our customers reduce their own carbon footprint, on an individual basis. As they narrow down these concepts, they are considering our customers’ behaviors, attitudes and preferences.
The Energy Portfolio pathway will employ a data-driven approach to study actionable strategies that eliminate or significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions for power generation, while still meeting our customers’ energy needs. This study will be completed by the end of this year. With a growing region and customer base, OPPD will be considering communities’ needs, while maintaining a reliable and resilient system.
The results will help inform OPPD’s 5-year integrated resource plan (IRP) that we must submit to Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), per federal regulations. The deadline for this plan is Feb. 28, 2022. However, an extension may be granted, if needed. New plans may be submitted at a later date, to evolve with the utility’s plans.
We are committed to involving the public in this process; to better understand and consider their desires and concerns.
OPPD invites the public to attend the first of six deep-dive workshops this year around our Energy Portfolio pathway to decarbonization. This virtual workshop will take place:
Following the meeting, a mapping tool will be available at OPPDCommunityConnect.com through April 13, 2021, for feedback.
Sarpy Southwest Transmission Project
OPPD also wants to engage the public on another effort, the Sarpy Southwest Transmission Project. We are routing three separate transmission lines in the area, needed to maintain system resiliency and reliability, as well as to support customer load growth and future generation. Stakeholder input is important in our routing process, as we evaluate environmental, social, and engineering factors.
We sought our customers’ feedback for Phase 1 of this project for initial routing. For Phase 2, we will be using that input and data to narrow down segments of potential route alternatives for each of the lines. As we continue our evaluation, we are consulting with community leaders, stakeholders, and the public for additional input. We want to learn as much as we can about the remaining route segments for each transmission line for further evaluation.
We invite the public to attend a virtual public meeting to provide input on Phase 2 of the project. It will take place:
This will be the final opportunity to provide input to help inform OPPD’s decisions on the final proposed routes.
Virtual Heat the Streets Run & Walk for Warmth
Thanks to the generosity of our communities, OPPD, along with Metropolitan Utilities District surpassed their fundraising goal for their annual Heat the Streets Run & Walk for Warmth March 6. The results were included in the monthly President’s Report to the board today.
The 14th year of this fundraiser for energy assistance programs was held virtually due to the pandemic. But that did not limit participation. In fact, with a fundraising goal of $100,000 this year, the event raised more than $103,000 thanks to participation, donations, and sponsorships. We estimate this funding will help more than 300 households who are struggling to pay their utility bills.
You can view the full President’s Report by visiting OPPD.com/BoardMeeting.
In other action, directors:
- Approved the February 2021 meeting minutes and the March 18, 2021 agenda.
- Approved expansion of the Commercial Paper Program. Commercial paper is a short-term promissory note that matures in less than a year and is more economic than a line of credit through a bank. The approved expansion by $100 million, up to a maximum of $350 million total, provides OPPD with more flexibility for capital projects with low borrowing costs, as well as additional liquidity support for such areas as budget variances and Southwest Power Pool integrated energy market costs. It also supports OPPD’s strong ‘AA’ credit rating.
- Discussed and accepted the Strategic Directive-14: Retirement Plan Funding monitoring report. Acceptance means the board finds the district to be sufficiently in compliance with the directive.
Next month, the board’s public all-committees meeting will be held virtually, starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 13. To attend, please visit OPPD.com/CommitteeAgenda, and follow the Webex audio/video conferencing directions.
The next monthly board meeting will be held Thursday, April 15, 5 p.m., both virtually and in-person. Directors will meet in-person on the Legislative Level of the Omaha Douglas County Civic Center, 1819 Farnam St.; however, virtual attendance is strongly encouraged for physical distancing. To join virtually via Webex, please visit OPPD.com/BoardAgenda