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Energy news from Omaha Public Power District


‘All-hands-on-deck’ effort, diverse energy sources aid storm response

January 17, 2024 | Grant Schulte |
WEA_Winter Storm Gerri Response 2024 Substation_frozen site visit_Auburn area

Faced with exceptional cold and strong demand for electricity, OPPD jumped headfirst into a challenging few days and continued to generate reliable power with help from its workforce, customers and a diverse energy portfolio.

Throughout the district, OPPD employees braved dangerous wind chills, icy roads and long hours far beyond their normal schedules to serve the public. Customers helped as well, heeding the utility’s call to lower their thermostats a few degrees and avoid running large appliances during normal peak usage times.

“It was all-hands-on-deck,” said Tim Stephan, day-shift supervisor at North Omaha Station. “We had a lot of extra support. The district made sure we were staffed around the clock to help us all succeed.”

A diverse energy portfolio

Winter Storm Gerri also illustrated the need for diverse generation sources, including alternative energy, said OPPD CEO Javier Fernandez. While some important parts of OPPD’s generation supply were out of service due to the weather, others – including natural gas, wind and solar – stepped in to deliver reliable electricity.

“Having that flexibility, that diversity, in our generation fleet is incredibly important,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez noted that, at one point during the storm, wind sources provided half of the generation within the Southwest Power Pool, a 14-state region that includes OPPD’s service territory. OPPD’s wind portfolio includes nearly 1,000 megawatts of wind, which performed well throughout the event.

Overcoming challenges

OPPD’s service territory saw near-record-low temperatures over the last week, with intense snow and wind chills as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The storm hit faster and stronger than anyone expected, but Fernandez said the utility’s employees rose to the challenge.

Fernandez credited OPPD’s residential, commercial and industrial customers as well for their efforts to conserve energy and help maintain smooth operations. Customers reduced their usage by about 50 megawatts Monday morning and 75 megawatts during another critical stretch Tuesday morning.

Frigid temperatures lowered water levels on the Missouri River, which required OPPD to shut down some of its coal-powered units. Water from the river helps cool equipment in the plants so they can run efficiently.

Ice also formed on water-filtration equipment at OPPD’s North Omaha Station that keeps sticks, straw and other debris out of the plant’s cooling systems. Plant employees worked around the clock with heaters to thaw the machinery, and while the units were down, workers took the opportunity to perform maintenance on other parts of the system.

Steamfitters, above left, use steam and special hoses to thaw ice at North Omaha Station. Also at North Omaha Station, an employee, above right, chips ice off intake screens. Winter Storm Gerri brought dangerously low temperatures and wind chills to the region.
Steamfitters, above left, use steam and special hoses to thaw ice at North Omaha Station. Also at North Omaha Station, and employee, above right, chips ice off intake screens.

‘Working around the clock’

OPPD’s plants are staffed around the clock regardless of weather. But during Winter Storm Gerri, other workers helped as well, including engineers, steamfitters, instrument technicians and others who stepped out of their normal jobs when needed.

Two units at Nebraska City Station tripped offline due to instrumentation freezing, although one returned to service on Monday. Many other utilities faced similar challenges, especially along with the Missouri River.

Multiple units remained available at Sarpy County Station, which generates electricity with natural gas and fuel oil. Jeremy Kellner, peaking station supervisor, said crews were working to start up several other units for additional power.

“We are working around the clock here,” he said.

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About Grant Schulte

Grant Schulte joined OPPD as a content generalist in 2022. He is a former reporter for The Associated Press, where he covered the Nebraska Legislature, state politics and other news for a global audience. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and a proud Hawkeye. In his free time he enjoys running, reading, spending time with his wife, and all things aviation.

View all posts by Grant Schulte >

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