Omaha Public Power District Commits to Net Zero Carbon by 2050

Jan. 6, 2020, 6:45 a.m. ·

OPPD purchases 400 megawatts of wind from the Grand Prairie wind farm near Holt County. (Courtesy: OPPD)

The Omaha Public Power District, or OPPD, approved a goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at a meeting in November.

OPPD provides electricity to about 850,000 people in southeastern Nebraska.

It generates power mostly from coal, but a growing portion comes from renewables like wind. In fact, renewables jumped from 4% of OPPD’s power generation in 2010, to nearly 32% in 2018.

But reaching net zero carbon emissions in the next 30 years will require some pretty significant changes.

VP of energy production Mary Fisher says one option is to convert coal-fired plants to natural gas.

"Which we will be doing at our North Omaha station, units four and five, by the end of 2023," Fisher says.

Other options include operating the coal-fired Nebraska City station only seasonally.

But OPPD Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs Russ Baker says reaching that 2050 deadline will involve solutions we don’t have access to yet.

"When we look to the future, there are some things that we're paying very close attention to, like battery storage, carbon capture on natural gas or coal fired units," Baker said. "And those technologies are very immature yet."

That’s what makes this an ambitious goal that will be challenging to meet.

"We've got to increase the renewables to try to offset the coal and natural gas and to do so we have to have more storage, more nuclear, more hydro," said F. John Hay, an extension educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hay says OPPD’s commitment is unique because there are not state regulations requiring emissions standards; no one is making them do this.

"And then we have utilities on their own going out and setting goals for themselves to try to be cleaner, better." Hay said.

OPPD is also taking a close look at other ways to address climate change – like maybe switching their trucks to electric or making office buildings more efficient. And as a customer-owned utility, they’re also looking at ways to encourage Nebraskans to make climate-conscious decisions.

Utilities across the country have made similar pledges over the last few months, include the nation’s largest utility provider Duke Energy.

Critics are skeptical of how possible these goals are while utilities continue to invest in coal and natural gas more than in renewables.