Omaha received a disappointing piece of news last month, as was covered in the OWH by Nancy Gaarder on June 19, 2022, “Grid and supply issues to delay end of coal use at OPPD’s North Omaha plant.” Due to many roadblocks out of OPPD control, OPPD announced it will continue to burn coal at their North Omaha Station (NOS) plant for at least three more years.
Since 2014, the plan has been to transition this facility from coal to natural gas, with an initial target of 2016, which eventually slid to 2023. OPPD is recommending a delay in the retirement of NOS units 1-3 and the fuel conversion of units 4 and 5 from coal to natural gas until 2026 or until Turtle Creek and Standing Bear Lake are ready. This recommendation suggests that coal-burning at the NOS could extend at least until 2026, which may hinder OPPD’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The harms of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions from the North Omaha Station will primarily be felt in the North Omaha region and may also affect citizens throughout the city. Burning coal comes with direct consequences to the communities where coal is burned: coal produces particulate matter (PMs) and ozone, both lung irritants that are linked to worsening asthma, COPD, heart disease as well as to miscarriages and early childhood respiratory problems.
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According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human activities producing greenhouse gases have increased Earth’s temperature by 1.8 F since 1900. We are currently on track to reach 2.7 F above 1900 levels in less than 20 years. While these change in temperatures may not appear to be cause for alarm, according to the IPCC Report, they will have (and already have had) devastating impacts on human and environmental health, not to mention the impact on agricultural productivity, mortality, crime, energy use, etc. Without the rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will rise higher than 2.7 F, resulting in catastrophic consequences for humanity.
OPPD management and board are to be commended for their work in finding Pathways to Decarbonization, and their inclusion of their stakeholders as they navigate these unchartered waters. In 2014, OPPD outlined a gradual reduction in coal dependence in favor of cleaner forms of energy, including renewables (solar, wind) nuclear and natural gas, in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past eight years, OPPD has made important changes in their resource mix toward the goal of decarbonization: the process by which utilities, communities, businesses and individuals move away from burning fossil fuels for energy. These changes were informed by public input and commentary that demonstrated a strong community sentiment in favor of decarbonization.
Recently, OPPD reaffirmed their clean energy commitment for our region despite a new Supreme Court decision to strip the EPA of the regulatory power requiring utility companies to transition away from coal-fired energy generation and toward cleaner energy sources. This EPA requirement aimed to ensure a more sustainable future for Americans by slowing the disastrous effects of a warming climate. The OPPD board and management are well aware of these threats and will thankfully continue to pursue a course of clean energy generation going forward.
There are actions that the OPPD board and management can take to alleviate some of these harms and to maintain public trust in their intention to reduce dangerous emissions from the North Omaha Station:
1. Run the NOS coal-fired plant as little as necessary. Clarify and communicate to stakeholders how the North Omaha plant will be run and managed in order to minimize its usage and the harmful health effects to North Omaha Residents.
2. Include an end date for coal consumption in this latest resolution to demonstrate accountability. We advocate that the conversion to natural gas be completed by the end of 2026 or sooner.
3. Include interim metrics that measure greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim to demonstrate a steady reduction between now and the Net Zero’s 2050 goal.
4. Expand incentives and programs for distributed solar energy for individuals to install in their residences and businesses, beginning in 2023.
It is imperative that OPPD stakeholders engage in the process of decarbonizing their day-to-day energy usage. OPPD cannot do this alone and will require public input and support as they navigate Omaha toward a clean energy future. Please contact your OPPD representative and senior management at the following link: https://bit.ly/3cww5hW.