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What It Takes

For chemists at OPPD, attention to detail, problem-solving skills are critical

April 2, 2024 | Paula Lukowski | generation, OPPD at work, OPPD employees, What It Takes
Chemists play a vital role at OPPD. This group works at Nebraska City Station. From left: Stacy Mattoon, Aaron O’Donnell, Steve Bennett, and Jason Teten. Photo by Danielle Beebe

 Growing up on a farm outside of Auburn, Nebraska, Stacy Matteen spent a lot of time outdoors.

One of her favorite spots was a creek that flowed through the countryside near her home. There, she hunted for arrowheads and small fossils. She and her cousin spent countless hours skipping rocks and just wading in the water.

“I always liked playing in that creek,” said Matteen, a chemist based out of Nebraska City Station (NCS). Those experiences influenced her education. She received a bachelor’s degree from Peru State College and studied limnology (the study of inland aquatic ecosystems) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

“Water in a power plant is its lifeblood,” said Matteen.

How it works

The complex process of producing electricity at a baseload power station, like NCS, requires a lot of water. Two different sources of water are needed to run the power station efficiently.

Cooling water, which is also called circulating water, is sourced from the Missouri River and is used to condense steam back down to water inside of the condenser. Condensate make-up water is sourced from well water and is treated until it is pure water suitable for use in the boiler and turbine.

From there, the condensate water goes through a series of systems where it is heated to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the boiler, and the resulting pressurized steam flows to the turbine and then to the condenser. After being used there to generate electricity, the condensate water will go through its steam/water cycle once again and repeat the process. The cooling water will be discharged back to the river.

That whole process doesn’t happen without a lot of work by chemists.


Seven chemists oversee chemistry-related functions at OPPD’s growing generation fleet. Five are based at Nebraska City Station and two work from North Omaha Station; a supervisor of Chemistry oversees the work. However, they also have work to do at the peaking stations at Cass County, Sarpy County and Jones Street, and they will do the same at Standing Bear Lake and Turtle Creek stations when the natural gas plants come online later in 2024. Their projects vary from facility to facility.

The chemist role requires a science-based education, strong problem-solving skills, excellent verbal communication skills, keen attention to detail and commitment to safety. On a daily basis, they work with chemicals like ammonium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, aluminum chloride, chlorine, mercury and more.

They often work in a lab with test tubes, beakers and monitoring equipment that one might expect. However, they make their rounds within the various generating units, too.

Among their responsibilities:

  • monitor and analyze cooling water, steam cycles and water plants
  • dose, use, monitor and transfer chemicals
  • monitor critical tasks and prepare chemical operation control status reports
  • calibrate instruments
  • test metals and lubricating oil
  • manage spill prevention and stormwater prevention control
  • analyze mercury traps and combustion fuel
  • monitor air quality
  • inspect landfills and ash disposal
  • serve on the hazardous materials team

Rewarding work

Jason Teten has been a full-time OPPD chemist since 2015.

Jason Teten collects a water sample from the boiler drum in the unit 1 water sample room at Nebraska City Station.
Chemist Jason Teten collects a water sample from the boiler drum in the unit 1 water sample room at Nebraska City Station. Photo by Danielle Beebe

“I really like math and science, and I knew I wanted to get into the energy field,” said Teten, who received a physics degree from the University of Nebraska-Kearney. He worked as an operator at Mid-American Energy before joining OPPD.

“It’s rewarding to be able to help produce energy,” Teten said. “We collaborate and work closely with other teams, such as operations and maintenance.”

Matteen agreed.

“There are so many talented crafts people. I like working with them,” she said. “Every day is different. I get to do a variety of work and enjoy the challenges.”

Environmentally sensitive energy

“The chemist role is very important, and a big piece of that revolves around environmental regulations,” said Steve Bennett, who has worked at Nebraska City Station for the past 17 years.

“OPPD has a good track record environmentally, and it’s one of our main priorities,” said Bennett, referring to OPPD’s mission of providing reliable, affordable and environmentally sensitive energy to customers.

“Better quality water means better quality steam and more efficient boilers, turbines and other equipment,” he said.

Before joining OPPD in 2006, Bennett ran a water treatment plant for a municipality. His first OPPD role, auxiliary operator, had him running NCS’s water system. He worked his way up to unit operator before becoming shift supervisor. During those years, he had frequent interactions with the chemists and admiration for the work they did. He gave up shift work and moved to the chemist position a year ago.

All three chemists relayed the importance of always working closely as a team.

“We work around a lot of dangerous chemicals,” Matteen said. “When we are fully suited up, we look out for each other. Most chemicals require a two-person buddy system. We’re trained to stop work if we ever feel unsafe or unsure because safety is a top priority.”

Chemists face their fair of challenges, but they all enjoy using their problem-solving skills.

“I like troubleshooting and figuring out why something isn’t working, and then improving upon it,” said Teten. “When we get new equipment, we need to create new procedures and learn whole new systems.”

Sense of pride

“I can’t imagine working someplace else,” said Bennett.

Neither can Matteen. During college, she worked as a summer helper at Nebraska City Station, then worked as a research technologist at UNL, where she published a study on the effects of pesticide.

OPPD chemist Stacy Matteen performs a water hardness analysis on a cooling tower sample in the lab at the Nebraska City Station.
Stacy Matteen performs a water hardness analysis on a cooling tower sample in the lab at the Nebraska City Station. Photo by Danielle Beebe

She spent a short time at Cooper Nuclear Station before staying home for a while to raise her two kids.

“I knew this was a great place to work, I had an aunt and two uncles who worked here,” said Matteen. “I appreciate the benefits and flexibility. I’ve been a Teammates mentor for 14 years, and it’s so rewarding. I also have been able to volunteer in the community in other ways, living out OPPD’s values and passion to serve.

“I have a lot of pride working at OPPD,” said Matteen, who reminisced about watching Nebraska City Station Unit 2 take shape from the ground up. For a time, hundreds of construction workers filled the site, and week by week, they erected the giant facility that evolved into what’s now a 687.2 megawatt unit. That unit went online in 2009.

“It’s one of the best jobs in the area, and I want to do my best every day,” Matteen said.

Seek out internships

Like Matteen, Teten also worked as a summer intern at OPPD during college, one year in the warehouse and one in chemistry. The experience was invaluable.

Try to get summer jobs that are industrial-related if you’re interested in becoming a chemist,” Teten said. “Study the science fields – engineering, chemistry and math are all are beneficial studies.”

Attention to detail is very important, he said. “You have to be fully aware of what chemicals you are working with and grab the right tools.”

His biggest takeaway?

“Safety is our working principle. Any job you are doing, you want to do it safely.”

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About Paula Lukowski

Paula Lukowski has more than 34 years of corporate communications experience. By far, her favorite aspect of that role has been profiling the great work done by OPPD employees and retirees. Paula and her husband, Mark, have two grown children, Rachel and John, a son-in-law, Josh, and two grandsons.

View all posts by Paula Lukowski >

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