2018 has been prime time for “peakers”

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An aerial photo of OPPD's Sarpy County Station.

May 2018 – one of the hottest Mays in years – kept OPPD’s generating stations running overtime to keep up with the air conditioners.

OPPD’s two baseload facilities – Nebraska City and North Omaha stations – were at the forefront of that generation. But so were OPPD’s peaking stations at Cass and Sarpy counties as well as Jones Street Station, one of OPPD’s oldest stations.

Cass County Station, a 320-megawatt (MW) facility that runs on natural gas, set a record for generation in May with a total of more than 22 gigawatt hours.

Cass County generation wasn’t utilized much last year due to the June 16, 2017 storm that destroyed a seven-mile portion of 345-kilovolt transmission line.

That line was rebuilt and ready to use by May, just in time for the unseasonable heat that enveloped OPPD’s service territory. According to the National Weather Service in Valley, Neb., this past May was the second-warmest on record in Omaha culminating with a record 101-degree day on May 27. Records were set or tied on four straight days from May 25 through May 28.

The high temperatures weren’t the only factor for the record usage. Joel Johnston, manager at North Omaha Station, said another factor included the unavailability of generating units outside of OPPD that were offline for maintenance repairs or other reasons.

“With SPP (Southwest Power Pool) being a much larger footprint, a lot of it depends on what is going on outside our network, transmission constraints and wind availability,” Johnston said.

There are times SPP will call and ask that units be started as soon as possible.

OPPD’s Cass County Station is one of three peaking plants called upon when extra generation is needed.

“There was a time in May that they called and asked that everything run so there was obviously something happening out there on the system,” said Todd Anderson, lead engineer with OPPD’s Production Operations Division. “They needed generation right now and that’s the whole point of these units.”

The pecking order for which OPPD’s peaking units run is generally dictated by price, location and start up time. Jones Street Station is usually the last to be called on since the oil-fueled station is more expensive to run. However, Jones Street Station ran twice in May.

The peaking department has also maintained one of the highest safety records in the utility, going seven-and-a-half years without an incident. Johnston said the uncertainty of whether or not the units will be called upon actually helps the workers stay safe.

“I think it keeps them from becoming complacent,” Johnston said. “It keeps their mindset right because things can change at any time. They can’t get into a routine.”

Officially, the peaking plants department was formed in October, 1994. The “peakers,” as they are known around OPPD, will continue to play a valuable role in providing energy to customers for years to come.

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.

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