Distributed Energy Resources

OPPD seeks OK for solar plant as large as 600 MW

The Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) is seeking approval from its board of directors for a solar power plant that could be as large as 600 megawatts.

“This new capacity is needed in light of a changing generation and customer landscape, as our load continues to grow,” Tim Burke, president and CEO of OPPD, said. “Our team’s recommendation thoughtfully balances affordability, resiliency, reliability, and environmental sensitivity – key components of our mission and strategic directives.”

The proposal the Nebraska public power utility’s management has presented to its publicly elected board of directors calls for 400 MW to 600 MW of solar power, as well as replacement gas-fired backup power and switching some of OPPD’s coal plants to burn natural gas. OPPD is also considering adding grid voltage-support devices as the grid continues to evolve.

OPPD’s board is scheduled to vote on management’s proposal on Nov. 14. The public comment period is open until Nov. 8.

OPPD has already converted three units at its 627-MW North Omaha Station coal plant to run on natural gas. The gas units are projected to run less than 10% of the time. By 2024, Units 1, 2 and 3 at the North Omaha plant will cease to operate and coal-fired Units 4 and 5 will be retrofitted to burn natural gas. They would operate only during periods of peak demand. OPPD closed its 478-MW Fort Calhoun nuclear station in October 2016.

“If the board grants approval for the proposal to move forward in November, we would begin a request for proposals process for utility grade solar,” OPPD spokeswoman Jodi Baker said. “We would consider our best options for the size and scale of the solar generation prior to determining the size of a natural gas facility or facilities.” The gas back-up would be owned and operated by OPPD.

“The natural gas facility or facilities would start up much faster than North Omaha Station Units 1, 2, and 3, and thus would produce less emissions during startup,” Baker added. In addition, she said, new gas plants ramp to full power generation even faster and thus maintain the stability of the system more quickly, in order to adjust to the variable output of wind, solar generation and other market conditions at any given time.

The transition plan for the North Omaha plant allows OPPD’s to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2010 to 2024.

At the same November meeting OPPD’s board will also vote on an environmental stewardship initiative that calls for the utility to have net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

“This is the latest step in a journey we’ve been on since 2014, when our board of directors approved a thoughtful and thorough generation resources plan,” Burke said in a statement. “Since that time, OPPD’s renewable portfolio has grown to nearly 1,000 megawatts of wind energy, and our first community solar program is set to go online soon.”