OPPD raises its commitment to renewable energy

The Omaha Public Power District’s board recently approved revisions to its strategic plan that increase the utility’s commitment to renewable energy.

The board approved revisions to OPPD’s Strategic Directive 7, Environmental Stewardship, which calls for the utility to derive 50% of its retail sales from renewable resources and sets a target of a 20% reduction in carbon intensity from 2010 levels by 2030.

OPPD did not set a time limit on the 50% target in part because of the uncertainty in technology and energy costs beyond 5 years in the planning horizon used for its integrated resource plan and the annual review to its Strategic Directives. OPPD also wanted to ensure that it built some flexibility into its planning process.

OPPD’s most recent integrated resource plan, for 2016, was published in February 2017 and goes out to 2022.

When the 160-MW Sholes Wind Energy Center OPPD has contracted with NextEra Energy for comes online in 2019, the utility’s retail sales from renewables will rise to about 40%.

The wind farm, along with a planned 5 MW community solar project, will put OPPD closer to the 50% target, but the utility also set a carbon intensity target, that will be tougher to achieve.

The carbon intensity target is a more holistic approach to OPPD’s carbon dioxide emissions, Russ Baker, director of the environmental and regulatory affairs division at OPPD, said.

The 50% target is a more common metric and more familiar to the public, but it does not include everything in OPPD’s system, such as off-system sales, he explained. The carbon intensity “approach resonated with us and, after much discussion, it resonated with board, as well,” he said.

In addition to painting a more complete picture of OPPD’s emissions, the carbon intensity target will present a higher hurdle because of the utility’s decision to close its Fort Calhoun nuclear station. Fort Calhoun ended operations in October 2016.

In 2010, however, the reference date for the carbon intensity target, Fort Calhoun was still running, and OPPD had a carbon intensity of 1,464 pounds of CO2 per MWh.

By 2014-2015, OPPD had added more renewables to its system and Fort Calhoun was still in operation and the utility had a carbon intensity of 1,246 lbs.CO2/MWh. After Fort Calhoun was decommissioned, OPPD’s carbon intensity rose to 1,554 lbs.CO2/MWh. Based on 2017 numbers, the most recent available, Baker says OPPD needs to achieve another 26.2% reduction in carbon intensity to meet its new target.

During the comment period for its Strategic Directive, some environmental groups such the Sierra Club were pushing OPPD to adopt a more aggressive renewable standard than the 50% target that was finally approved.

“They wanted us to do more and do it more quickly,” Baker said, “but the board decided that was a little too far for right now and we should be more incremental.”

In October, OPPD’s board approved updated plans for decommissioning Fort Calhoun Station by switching from the SAFESTOR method to the faster, more economical DECON method. During November’s meeting, the board authorized the utility to finalize negotiations and award a contract in support of an OPPD-led DECON strategy.

The SAFESTOR process would have allowed the utility up to 60 years for full decommissioning. DECON calls for an accelerated decommissioning time frame, closer to 10 years that Baker says could potentially save OPPD ratepayers about $200 million.

The faster method became an option due to the good progress employees have made with regards to decommissioning work – on time and under budget. Baker said DECON also allows the utility to capitalize on its employees’ institutional knowledge, Baker said.