For decades, OPPD’s North Omaha Station has been a workhorse of the generation fleet. Built during the post-WWII boom years, the generating station fulfilled that needs of OPPD’s rapidly growing customer base.
North Omaha Station (NOS) went online in 1954, providing 75,000 kilowatts of energy. As growth continued, a second unit was quickly added. In all, five units made up NOS and the plant was capable of producing nearly 650 megawatts of electricity.
But times have changed. Stricter environmental regulations are in place and customers want a more diverse energy mix in OPPD’s generation plan.
On March 17, 2016, the first of three units at the plant retired. On March 25, Unit 3 was taken offline for coal-burning operation. It is now available to operate on natural gas and will remain available until Oct. 31 and then be retired. Unit 1 was retired earlier in April. Below is a video of the unit being “tripped,” or shut down.
Remaining units 4 and 5 have been fitted with emissions-control measures. Dry sorbent and activated carbon will be injected into the plant’s flue gas streams. Unit 2 – which produced 27 million megawatt hours of electricity since coming online in 1957 – is the first to retire.
OPPD is staggering the unit retirements to ensure safe cleanup of the highly-combustible residual coal and coal dust from the storage bunkers.
The bunkers hold the coal that powers the units. Typically, each bunker holds about a half-day’s supply of coal, said John Wichman, senior Production Operations engineer and project manager of the Unit 1 -3 retirements.
The plant will use the coal in each bunker until they are empty. Natural gas will stabilize the shut-down process and burn as much of the coal from the bunkers as possible, Wichman said.
Employees thoroughly cleaned the bunkers due to the combustibility of the dust and residual coal.
2016 was a busy year at the plant with the completion of a number of projects related to the unit retirements.
Coal conveyers that deliver coal to the bunkers will be modified and shortened by about 230 feet. A wall will ensure the coal bunkers for the two active units remain separated from the retired units’ bunkers.
There is some sadness surrounding the unit retirements. A lot of men and women spent their careers at North Omaha. They ensured the units ran smoothly to power Omaha and surrounding communities.
Jon Hansen, vice president of energy production and marketing at OPPD, is one of those employees and knows the plant well.
Hansen served as NOS plant manager for four years and operations supervisor for six years prior to that. He remembers the nighttime calls taking him away from family camping trips or dinners to return to the plant. But he also remembers the people he worked with.
“I was always struck by the sense of community there and how much everyone cared for one another,” he said. “A lot of good, salt-of-the-earth people were innovative and finding ways to get things done at North Omaha. When I started in 1983, North Omaha was a little gray and tired-looking. The shiny new plants got a little more attention.”
But North Omaha was always there, putting out power, he said. The plant shadowed the growth of Omaha and the surrounding communities it served.
“North Omaha has stayed vital to our company over the years,” Hansen said. “It was flexible in that we could vary output, or cycle units on and off, it allowed us to respond and serve our customer’s load.”
Hansen said OPPD learned lessons from the historic flood of 1952. They built North Omaha higher than originally planned to better withstand similar levels of Missouri River flooding. It paid off in 2011, when historic flooding once again struck.
“North Omaha kept going during that hot summer,” Hansen said. “North Omaha was a champ.”
Now, North Omaha Station, known for its flexibility in the fleet, has been called on again. This time for a different purpose – helping OPPD achieve its new generation portfolio goal while still producing power.
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