OPPD’s winds of change

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Butler Ridge Wind Energy Center wind turbines on farm land in Dodge County, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of NextEra Energy Resources.

Since 2015, OPPD has accelerated its commitment to increasing renewable generation into its resource portfolio, and today marks another milestone in the district’s renewable journey. With the announcement of a new wind facility in Wayne County in northeast Nebraska, OPPD will soon be providing 40 percent of its retail electric sales from renewable energy resources.

A subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources will be building the 160-megawatt (MW) Sholes Wind Energy Center, which is set to begin construction in March 2019 and be operational in December 2019, at which time OPPD will purchase 100 percent of the wind energy produced by the facility. The project marks the first such wind facility for OPPD since the 400-MW Grande Prairie wind facility came online in late 2016. OPPD has a 20-year agreement with NextEra Energy Resources.

OPPD committed to increasing its renewable generation to 30 percent in 2015 after a lengthy stakeholder process that included the utility’s customer-owners. Prior to 2015, the district’s goal was 10 percent by 2020; now, the district is working toward providing 51 percent of retail electric sales from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Timothy J. Burke

Since the 30 percent goal was established in 2015, the district has proactively increased the amount of renewables in its portfolio. In 2016, 19.6 percent of retail sales were supplied from renewable energy resources. In 2017, retail energy sales supplied from renewables are projected to be 34 percent. With the addition of the Sholes facility, retail energy sales from renewables are projected to be 40 percent when the new facility comes online.

The 160-megawatts from the Sholes Wind Energy Center supports OPPD’s latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that called for increasing wind generation into OPPD’s portfolio. OPPD CEO and President Tim Burke said it is notable how far OPPD has come with renewables in such a short time, helping lead the way in the energy industry.

“Reliability, affordable rates and environmentally sensitive solutions are areas we place the highest focus on at OPPD,” Burke said. “Our 2017 Integrated Resource Plan was developed using extensive analysis and helps guide our roadmap to meet our mission and strategic directives. The addition of more wind energy is the right thing to do for our customer-owners and assures we remain on the right path.”

NextEra Energy Resources, based in Florida, is one of the largest wholesale generators of electric power in the country, with approximately 19,990 megawatts of generating capacity in 29 states and Canada. NextEra Energy Resources and its affiliated entities comprise the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun.

“We are pleased to partner with OPPD to bring the Sholes Wind Energy Center to Nebraska,” said Mike O’Sullivan, senior vice president of Development for NextEra Energy Resources. “This energy center will harness the state’s wind resource to create home-grown, renewable energy, as well as jobs and increased tax revenue for the local community.”

OPPD officials said the timing is right for adding more wind generation and the recent work done to bring Grande Prairie online has made this project go smoother.

“It is a great time to buy wind, the prices are very competitive,” said Jon Hansen, vice president of Energy Production & Marketing.

Rich Hurley, a member of OPPD’s Board of Directors and chair of the Systems Management Committee agreed.

“Finding the best value for our constituents and adding more renewables to our generation mix is welcome news for both OPPD and the people who will benefit from the economic impacts of the Sholes wind facility,” Hurley said. “It’s a great fit all around.”

An additional wind announcement is expected by Facebook and OPPD later this year.

Facebook is building a data center in Sarpy County and plans to procure 100 percent renewable energy for the facility. The data center will include two 450,000-square-foot buildings and a 70,000-square-foot administration area.

The social media giant decided to build its newest data center in Nebraska largely due to OPPD’s development of Rate 261M, designed to help large customers meet their renewable energy needs.

OPPD cannot take advantage of the federal tax credits since the utility does not pay income taxes. Instead, public power companies distribute in-lieu-of-tax payments, which are based on 5 percent of OPPD’s gross revenues from retail sales of electricity in incorporated cities and towns. This past year, OPPD paid more than $33 million in-lieu-of-tax.

Grande Prairie Wind Farm located in Holt County added 400 megawatts to OPPD’s portfolio earlier this year.

OPPD will continue looking to add more renewables, particularly wind, in the coming years.

“OPPD continuously evaluates our energy resources,” said Jeff Karloff, division manager of Production Engineering & Fuels. “When OPPD’s customer requirements, market prices, and the cost to purchase energy align, OPPD is prepared to seize the opportunity.”

The investment is a welcome one not just for OPPD’s customer-owners, but also for those in Wayne County, where the construction could bring in approximately 200 jobs during the construction period and six to 10 full-time operations jobs. The project is estimated to provide more than $30 million in tax revenue.

Wes Blecke, executive director of Wayne Area Economic Development said his organization started working on this project in 2013.

“To see this project come to fruition is incredible for the area,” Blecke said. “The economic development benefits that come with the construction phase of these projects and then the continued operations of a wind facility are very valuable for the entire region. We are excited to work with NextEra Energy Resources to make this process go as smoothly as possible.”

Jason Kuiper

About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He formerly worked as a staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald.

One thought on “OPPD’s winds of change”

  1. Very happy to see more wind energy being put to use in NE after all we do seem to have a lot of wind. Just makes good common sense!

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