Omaha Public Power District opts for 400 MW of new wind capacity

The Omaha Public Power District Board of Directors voted at its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 17 to approve a long-term power purchase agreement to buy up to 400 MW of wind generated electricity from the Grande Prairie Wind Farm.

That vote allows OPPD to strategically plan for the future and further its mission to provide affordable, reliable and environmentally sensitive energy services to its customers, the district said. The wind farm is expected to be operational in the second half of 2015 and is to be located northeast of O’Neill, Neb. The agreement has a term of 20 years. It becomes the largest wind power purchase to date for OPPD.

During discussions the board heard that prices for wind energy are the lowest the district has seen and represent a good deal for OPPD customers. Also, that acting now would allow the developer to take advantage of federal production tax credits. The agreement is contingent on the extension of those federal tax credits and on the project winning approval from the Nebraska Power Review Board.

The proposal will increase OPPD’s renewable generation to 817 MW of capacity, nearly doubling current amounts, and increasing to 30% the amount of retail generation that comes from renewable energy sources. The percentage surpasses all of the district’s previous announced corporate goals. It will also help position OPPD as one of the top utilities in the region for percentage of retail sales.

In addition to the new purchase agreement approved by the board, OPPD already has existing contracts with several other wind farms, all located within the state of Nebraska. This includes wind farms near Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Broken Bow, Crofton, Humboldt , Elgin and Petersburg.

Sierra Club says this is a good time for OPPD to reduce its coal stake

Said the Sierra Club in an Oct. 17 statement about the OPPD decision: “This historic investment in wind is the largest single investment in wind energy by a Nebraska utility, and will save OPPD customers money while spurring economic development across the state. This purchase puts OPPD on the path to generating 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the end of 2015.”

“Today’s announcement shows significant leadership from OPPD’s board and staff to embrace a clean energy economy at a time when wind energy is available at an all-time low cost,” said Graham Jordison, Field Organizer with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Omaha.

OPPD estimated that construction costs for the Grande Prairie wind farm will total $700m, which will provide significant economic development for the local community near O’Neill and the entire state of Nebraska, the club noted. The Grande Prairie wind farm will be constructed by Geronimo Energy, a Minnesota-based developer of utility-scale wind and solar energy projects, the club added.

“OPPD’s investment in wind energy is public power at its best,” said Ken Winston, Policy Advocate with the Nebraska Sierra Club. “The board and management heard the call for clean energy, found Nebraska wind projects and locked in low-cost clean energy that will provide benefits to customer-owners for years to come. This is a huge win for OPPD customer-owners, and we applaud the board for making this historic investment in clean energy.”

The Grande Prairie wind farm that OPPD will purchase energy from was recently passed over by the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) in a vote on new wind energy investments, the club said.

“OPPD’s major investment in wind puts Omaha on the path to becoming a clean energy leader in our region,” said Sharif Lirawu, President of the Malcolm X Foundation in North Omaha. “This announcement encourages us that OPPD has listened to our concerns, not just about adding wind, but about finalizing a commitment to retire the North Omaha plant. Reducing dependence on coal will clean up our air and make it easier for residents living with asthma to breathe in North Omaha.”

“Our public power districts don’t need to send our money out of state to Wyoming to buy dirty coal when we have clean energy solutions right here in Nebraska,” said Jordison. “As we boost Nebraska’s clean energy economy, now is the time when OPPD must make a commitment to cleaning up the air in North Omaha by putting its North Omaha coal plant on a path to retirement.”

Said the OPPD website about North Omaha: “North Omaha Station is OPPD’s oldest generating plant in daily operation. The 638.2 MW generating facility initially began delivering electricity to customers more than 50 years ago. The facility includes five coal-fired units on a 103-acre tract in North Omaha. Each of the five generating units has been modified to better withstand the strain of being taken out of service and brought back on-line on short notice.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.