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A Balanced Approach

A Balanced Approach
January 5, 2021

Ask your friends about balance, and you’ll likely get a different viewpoint each time. One person tries to balance work with play. Another is struggling to balance their emotions as the pandemic wears on. Yet another seeks balance as they begin New Year’s resolutions targeted toward eating better.

We balance our checkbooks, our tires and even our reactions.

As a public power utility, NPPD is faced with many opportunities to achieve balance. Our customers have varying expectations, priorities, needs and desires. Many policymakers are also eyeing substantial changes in the way our industry generates and delivers electricity.

No matter what, our future plans must balance three key things: affordability, reliability and sustainability.

I’ve said before that sustainability alone requires balancing social, economic and environmental outcomes. These factors, combined with the varying interests and opinions of our customers and stakeholders, can make achieving overall balance an extremely complex task.

Our generation mix today is diverse and already more than 60% carbon-free, relying on several sources like coal, nuclear, wind, solar, hydropower and natural gas. It’s this varied mix that allows for optimal reliability, so our customers have power regardless of the intermittency of renewable energy.

Over the past 18 months, we have worked with our Board and customers to examine our generation mix and the challenges in front of us. The results of our review will provide directional guidance as we continue seeking solutions that allow us to maintain our strategic balance while incorporating additional carbon reduction solutions. A team dedicated to this endeavor has been exploring various scenarios we could undertake to achieve carbon-reduction goals without compromising affordability and reliability. I expect our Board will use the results of this work in 2021 to inform their policy directives with respect to our sustainability goals.      

We recognize cleaner generation resources are part of our future. We are prepared to go the distance to make sure our generation resources are attuned to customer wants and well exceed environmental and other regulatory requirements. Our participation in several innovative projects confirms our commitment to seeking solutions that benefit the environment, while assuring affordability and reliability for our customers.

At Gerald Gentleman Station (GGS), we are deeply involved in multi-phased projects studying the viability and economics of capture carbon technologies and the potential use of biomass like corn stover or eastern red cedar as a substitute to coal to reduce carbon emissions. These technologies show promise and could lead to greatly reduced carbon emissions from our units. The advancement of technology in this area is truly remarkable.

This process even opens the door to producing hydrogen from the syngas created from the gasification of the coal and biomass mixture. Additionally, our CarbonSAFE project at GGS looks a step further to identify affordable, viable solutions to carbon sequestration – that is, the storage of carbon – once it is captured. Alternative fuels like ammonia, methanol and green diesel, coupled with energy storage technology, add even more layers of opportunity that warrant further investigation.

You may be excited to learn that just this week, NPPD announced a new collaboration with Monolith Materials which, alongside our wholesale customer Norris Public Power District, allows us to jointly pursue the development of the renewable infrastructure needed to help Monolith meet their sustainability goals, which include offsetting the estimated annual 2-million megawatt-hours of electricity usage at their Olive Creek facilities with 100% renewable energy.

Monolith’s Olive Creek 1 plant, which manufactures carbon black – a product put into everything from tires to batteries – resides near Hallam, Nebraska, adjacent to our Sheldon Station facility. Olive Creek 2, a $1 billion expansion, will soon be sited next to Olive Creek 1. Our collaboration will provide significant short- and long-term value to the state by way of economic and environmental opportunities.

So, are we doing a lot to learn how best to reduce our carbon footprint? Looking at that list, I’d say yes. Will we do more? Certainly. We have every intention of exploring all viable options.

And therein lies the thing about balance. Regular, intentional reflection is necessary to maintain it.

As a utility, NPPD must constantly weigh and balance the many variables necessary to achieve our carbon reduction strategies. Due diligence in this area will ensure we meet and exceed customer expectations and needs long into the future.

Tom Kent signature