Power grid gridlock delays transition from coal at OPPD station in north Omaha

OPPD proposal to be considered by board at monthly meeting Thursday
OPPD may delay the shutdown of its coal fire power plant.
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 11:14 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - They’ve been talking about it for months, explaining online, at meetings, and anywhere people will listen. OPPD’s plan to stop burning coal at its north Omaha station by the end of 2023 has hit the brakes because of power grid gridlock.

“The new assets we’re looking to bring on line, the new gas facilities, there is a longer than expected permitting and approval from the Southwest Power Pool to bring those new facilities online,” said Eric Williams, director of OPPD Subdivision 6.

The upcoming monthly OPPD board meeting includes an action item to accept the recommendation to delay the promise to complete the move from coal to natural gas at the plant that first went online in 1954. The meeting — open to the public — is scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Legislative Chamber in the Omaha Civic Center.

Under the recommendation from OPPD’s board of directors, it will still happen; but instead of the end of 2023, it will now be slated for completion in 2026.

There seems little option but to approve the proposal.

“If (new gas facilities) were to come online, and we were to turn off the coal assets, that would mean we would have less capacity than we need, and we would be at significant increased risk, of, quite frankly, blackouts,” Williams said.

In fact, OPPD is not the only district across the country waiting for a green light through the necessary studies needed to assure a safe fit with the grid.

“There are a lot of developers and a lot of organizations that are trying to bring these products to market, wind facilities, these solar facilities, these natural gas facilities,” said Brad Underwood, OPPD vice president for systems transformation. “And they all have to go through the study, and it’s occurring nationwide, and it’s got the attention of federal regulators.”

In a way, the delay provides an opportunity. Omaha has come under criticism for its lack of a climate action plan, and this could jump-start things.

“The long-term vision is still in place,” Williams said of OPPD’s promise to be zero carbon neutral by the year 2050. “What are we going to do in the intervening years to help successfully engage with the community on reducing those impacts? I think that’s the area where ongoing engagement will be necessary, and I think the board and the staff have developed a really good mechanism to allow community-led, public health and education organizations to provide input and feedback on how to reduce those impacts.”

Underwood said it’s just too important a transition to risk completion.

”We need to make sure we do it in the right order and the right sequence to make sure we get the right reliability outcome for customer/owners,” Underwood said. “So there’s no change to a goal of reducing emissions while we ask the board to consider running the facility a few more years.”

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