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Electric Vehicles

OPPD EV pilot focuses on system impact, customer education

Omaha Public Power District is launching a pilot program in June to educate its 374,000 customers about the benefits of electric vehicles, while providing incentives for their potential use.

Throughout the pilot and beyond, OPPD will be tracking and monitoring impacts to its distribution system for use in grid planning and will also develop a plan for managing those impacts.

“We have been following developments closely and working to learn all that we can about the technology, as well as customer trends and preferences, and the potential impact increased usage would have on the utility,” said Heather Siebken, Director of Product Development and Marketing for OPPD.

During recent committee meetings for the OPPD Board of Directors, OPPD’s Integrated Energy Marketplace team presented its latest EV research, including plans tied to the pilot.

Siebken on May 22 said the pilot will feature a $500 rebate for customers installing a Chargepoint Home charging station purchased through a link on OPPD’s website "that allows them to monitor their charging behavior," and financial incentives offered by Nissan.

The automaker has agreed to take $3,000 off the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf in OPPD's service 5,000-square-mile service territory that includes Omaha and 13 counties in eastern Nebraska.

"We're also connecting customers with a $4,000 rebate OPPD will administer with the Nebraska Community Energy Alliance," if customers purchase and register an EV in Douglas County, the home county of Omaha, she said. "Then, we can issue a $4,000 rebate and it can be with any manufacturer, not necessarily Nissan."

The pilot program also will seek to educate customers on the availability of federal tax credits for EV purchases.

OPPD and NCEA each are contributing $75,000 for the pilot program, which essentially will last until the money runs out. The $75,000 is for the charging portion of the pilot. NCEA has allocated additional funds for the $4,000 car rebate.

OPPD plans to use a variety of ways to educate customers about EVs, including through its website, social media and with bill inserts. In addition, OPPD plans to work with auto dealerships "to do some marketing with them," she said.

The initial program partnership with Nissan stemmed from the fact the Japanese automaker already has an incentive program up and running. "It was a solution of opportunity," Siebken said. "It was there for us to partner with them right away."

Statistics show EV penetration currently is low in Nebraska, with an estimated 600 EVs on the road out of a total of 1.7 million registered vehicles in the state. Only about 300 EVs are located in OPPD's service area.

Aaron Smith, OPPD director of operations, is confident those figures will increase, perhaps substantially, although it is impossible to know when.

"There will be a turning point where the economics will drive it," he said. With the cost of electric cars coming down, it will be cheaper to buy them than vehicles with more traditional internal combustion engines.

"We realize we're kind of early in this," he acknowledged. Still, he said EVs make "great commuter cars," with the average commute into Omaha about 20 miles for most workers who live outside the city.

"Our strategy is to be kind of ready for this," he added. "We think this is coming," although "it may be slower in the Midwest than on the coasts."

OPPD assumes that 150,000 EVs eventually will be located in its service area, representing 9% of total vehicles. If that happens, OPPD would expect a corresponding rise in electric load of about 50 MW.

"It takes a whole lot of EVs to affect our load," Smith observed.

While 50 MW would be merely a blip in terms of OPPD's peak load of nearly 2,427 MW, it nevertheless would be a welcome addition.

Smith estimates each EV load is roughly equivalent to a third of a house load, so three EVs would equal one average house.

In recent years, the utility has incorporated nearly 50 EVs and hybrids into its vehicle fleet, along with several EV chargers and continuously evaluates their performance on a number of levels.