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OPPD proposes recognizing 'scientific consensus' of humans' role in climate change
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OPPD proposes recognizing 'scientific consensus' of humans' role in climate change

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is proposing that wealthy nations forgo beef in an effort to slow climate change, but that isn't sitting well with meat lovers in Nebraska, a state where cattle outnumber people.

The Omaha Public Power District board is proposing to explicitly acknowledge climate change and the role of humans in contributing to it, a position that stands in contrast to the Nebraska Legislature.

The board is considering the following proposed strategic directive: “The OPPD Board of Directors recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, from human activity contribute to climate change impacts.”

To comment, go to oppdcommunityconnect.com and click on the “SD 7 Environmental Stewardship” discussion box.

Less than a year ago, the Nebraska Legislature rejected a state climate plan, with opponents calling climate change a hoax.

Eric Williams, who leads the OPPD board committee that drafted the proposal, said he hopes other public and private entities follow suit.

The City of Lincoln already has a climate action plan, while Omaha, like the state, does not.

“I hope this encourages other organizations to step up and identify how they can be part of the clean energy transition,” Williams said. “There is a very clear case for the economics of moving to clean energy.”

The board’s longest-serving member, Mike Cavanaugh, who is in his 27th year, says he will vote against the statement as currently written.

“I don’t see where adding that phrase changes how we do business,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s a politically motivated change to appease the folks who are very outspoken about fighting climate change.”

Williams said the change has been proposed so people have a clear sense of why OPPD is moving to decarbonize its footprint.

In November 2019, OPPD set a net zero carbon emissions goal for 2050. Lincoln Electric System has committed to a 100% net reduction in carbon emissions by 2040.

The Nebraska Public Power District is in the midst of a more than two-year review of its emissions options and expects to articulate a path forward by the end of the year, said Tom Kent, president and CEO.

“It’s a real business risk we need to address,” Kent said. The utility says about 65% of its power generation is emissions-free, owing largely to Cooper Nuclear Station, but also to wind, hydropower and solar.

Globally, the electric power sector is responsible for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. According to the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a nonprofit working toward carbon-free energy, about 71% of U.S. customer accounts are served by utilities with explicit goals for reducing emissions.

More than 30 years ago, scientists began sounding the alarm about climate change and six years ago, scientists globally announced they were 95% to 100% confident that humans have been the dominant cause of warming over the last 70 years.

Climate scientists have said that global warming is already having a negative effect on Nebraska and that the state’s tendency toward extreme weather will become more extreme. Hotter droughts and heat waves, heavier downpours, along with warmer winters (with more rain and ice) and warmer nights are among the likely consequences.

Changing weather patterns in Nebraska already are requiring extensive resiliency planning at OPPD, said Mary Fisher, vice president of energy production.

During the extraordinary February freeze, OPPD and other Nebraska utilities implemented rolling blackouts and asked customers to cut back. During heat waves, utilities routinely ask major industry to curtail usage and cycle off residential air conditioning at homes that have volunteered for the curtailment.

Flooding has been a major threat to OPPD’s generation. During the historic flood of 2011, OPPD spent $61.6 million to protect its then $3 billion in assets along the Missouri River. Ultimately, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station campus was inundated. Efforts that year included elevating the levee and rail line at the Nebraska City coal stations. The utility is looking at raising the levee again, Fisher said.

Additionally, OPPD is upgrading its power plants so that they can more quickly respond to the fluctuating output of solar and wind generation, Fisher said. And it’s replacing some wooden transmission towers with more resilient steel and fiberglass ones.

The board will discuss comments made by the public during a committee meeting May 18. The committee and official board meeting two days later can be viewed virtually at OPPD.com.


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Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Email: nancy.gaarder@owh.com

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