The 10th annual Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference was as good a stage as any for OPPD President and CEO Tim Burke to peel back the curtain and give a glimpse of the utility’s plans for future generation.
To anyone who has charted OPPD’s path over the last eight years, an increased focus on adding renewable energy sources continues to expand. Burke told conference attendees on Monday, Nov. 13, that OPPD is working towards another wind project of 250 to 300 megawatts that would put the utility at more than 50 percent of retail sales coming from renewables.
When finalized, it will be OPPD’s second big wind announcement in recent months. In July, the 160-MW Sholes Wind Energy Center in Wayne County was announced with NextEra Energy Resources. Also, OPPD was instrumental in drawing Facebook to the area with its innovate Rate 261M for large customers looking to add more renewables. Last month, Facebook announced the Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project.
Burke also spoke about other economic development projects in which OPPD has been involved, along with the Facebook project.
On the third day of the three-day conference, two of the key players involved spoke to attendees about the work and partnerships that went into the project. Tim O’Brien, Director of Economic Development & External Affairs, spoke about taking numerous trips to California as OPPD sought to bring Facebook to Nebraska and the different division and employees who worked on the project.
Paul Clements, data center energy manager at Facebook, appeared with O’Brien Tuesday, Nov. 14 during the luncheon session “Renewable Energy Procurement: What Corporate Companies Look For” and spoke of the partnership with OPPD and the importance of renewable energy sources to the company.
OPPD is developing a community solar project and continues to do deep research to determine how and when to proceed on solar. Burke compared the development of solar to OPPD’s investment in wind energy. Wind prices are much lower now than they were 2009, when OPPD really started looking at adding wind to the generation mix. Burke said changes are certainly coming to the industry along with new technologies, and he expects solar prices to start coming down, just as wind prices have.
Burke pointed at OPPD’s commitment to no general rate increase for five years and how its customers enjoy some of the highest reliability in the country.
In response to a question from the crowd, Nebraska Public Power District President and CEO Pat Pope talked about electrical grid security.
“Hacking, hacking, hacking. It is everywhere, no doubt. No matter if it is our industry, the banking industry or the credit card industry,” Pope said. “None of us here operate on networks connected to the internet. That doesn’t mean you are all in the clear … But we spend a lot of time preventing folks from getting into these systems.”
Pope and Jason Fortik, vice president of Power Supply for Lincoln Electric System, both talked about the emerging electric vehicle market and how that could be a growth opportunity for the industry in a time when demand has flat lined.
Burke also thanked the members of the various Nebraska utilities that offered mutual aid and responded to help OPPD restore power after the June 16 storm, the fourth-worst to hit the area in terms of power outages.
“If you ever wanted to see public power at its best, it was a great opportunity to see these utilities scattered throughout Sarpy and Cass counties, putting up transmission and distribution poles,” Burke said. “It’s a great testament to public power and the great working ability we have across the industry here in Nebraska.”