Nebraska public power utility Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) in June made a recommendation at a OPPD Board of Directors meeting to delay the retirement of North Omaha Station (NOS) units 1-3 and fuel conversion of units 4 and 5 from low-sulfur coal to natural gas.
The delay is only until the utility’s new natural gas generation balancing stations are fully approved for grid interconnection service in accordance with federal law issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and administered by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), OPPD noted.
Previously, OPPD's Board of Directors approved these changes at NOS to occur by the end of 2023, when the new natural gas generation balancing stations – Standing Bear Lake (SBLS) and Turtle Creek (TCS) were planned to come online.
However, due to unforeseen delays with grid interconnection regulatory approvals for those projects, part of the utility’s Power with Purpose (PwP) initiative, OPPD recommended maintaining current generating operations at NOS until the new natural gas balancing stations are fully available, which is estimated by 2026.
PwP will bring additional generation totaling approximately 1,200 megawatts (MW) of natural gas and solar capability online.
OPPD said that the construction of SBLS and TCS is critical to ensuring continued system reliability and resiliency. Once these stations are online, OPPD will look to retire North Omaha Station units 1-3 and refuel units 4-5 from low-sulfur coal to natural gas.
In 2016, OPPD retired North Omaha units 1-3 from coal operations. Today, these units are available to run on natural gas, serving as peaking units during times of high demand for electricity.
SBLS and TCS are under construction now. However, in accordance with federal requirements, SPP must conduct a grid interconnection study before they can be connected to the grid.
“And with a large number of new generation projects requesting to come online in our region and every other region in the country, there is a major study backlog,” OPPD noted.
In addition, the two new natural gas generation projects have experienced some siting and grading delays, as well as supply chain issues. The new solar generation projects have also experienced challenges with siting of projects and supply chain challenges, including impacts from the federal focus on solar panel imports.
“This is one of those moments where we need to slow down our present path to achieve our future goals,” said President and CEO Javier Fernandez. “The extension of North Omaha Station’s current mission supports our commitment to reliability and resiliency, something we know our customers and communities are especially mindful of following the 2021 polar vortex event.”
OPPD said its leadership team continues to work diligently on finding solutions to the challenges facing not only the utility, but utilities across the region. Current delays will not impact OPPD’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon by 2050, the utility said.
The board of directors will vote on the recommendation during its next meeting, Aug. 18.