NPPD’s Energy House (Opinion/Editorial)

February 22, 2012

Building a house takes planning, a budget, materials, labor, and the design of a strong foundation. It is the same when generating electricity. The Nebraska Public Power District plans and constructs its “energy house” to deliver round-the-clock electricity for its customers. It does this with a diverse mixture of energy resources.

Our materials? We use wind – when it is available. We use coal – which is reliable and helps keep electric rates low. We use water – one of the oldest forms of renewable energy. We use nuclear – which offers emission-free, steady, power. We use natural gas – to complement the portfolio.  We practice and encourage energy efficiency, and we continue to research other technologies like compressed air storage, methane, biomass, and solar.  This diversity allows us to call upon the resources when they are most economical to produce power for more than 1 million Nebraskans. 

Some would like NPPD to invest in only renewable energies, such as wind power, stating it is “free,” has no environmental impacts, and will bring thousands of permanent jobs to the state. Wind energy plays an important role in NPPD’s generation mix, but it currently cannot serve as the foundational energy source needed to serve everyone’s electrical needs all the time.

According to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), it takes one nuclear plant OR two coal plants to produce enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 1 million households. Comparably, it would take 2,000 wind turbines or 1.6 million solar photovoltaic cells to generate the same amount of electricity. And, unfortunately, there have been days when none of the wind turbines currently connected to NPPD’s system were operating because the wind wasn’t blowing. Imagine a hospital or industry managing its operations based on the wind’s variability. Wind farms require conventional backup. 

There are cost comparisons, too. Calculations indicate one commercial, 2-megawatt wind turbine costs approximately $3 million to construct (without transmission infrastructure). Multiply 2,000 wind turbines at $3 million each, and the total replacement cost to replace the energy generated by conventional resources like nuclear and coal could cost ratepayers as much as $6 billion –with a ‘b’. 

There are various entities and individuals claiming NPPD has decided to spend $1.5 billion to retrofit its coal-fired facilities. The truth is, NPPD’s Board of Directors has not authorized spending this amount of money, and will only do so, if it is in the best interest of Nebraskans, retains a strong foundation for producing reliable electricity, keeps customers’ electric rates low, and enables NPPD to live up to its promise to be “Always there when you need us.”

NPPD’s obligation as a not-for-profit, generating utility is to provide customers electricity 24X7 in sub-zero temperatures and above 100 degrees. Our “energy house” has a foundation of nuclear and fossil-fueled resources, which serve as not only the floors, walls and ceilings, but also the heating and ventilation system year-round. But we don’t close the door and shut off the lights. We continue to invest in renewable energy (like adding sunrooms and new windows) to take advantage of the state’s natural resources. The combination gives NPPD’s ratepayers the ability to use energy whenever they want to at rates among the lowest in the nation.

Pat Pope
President and CEO
Nebraska Public Power District

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