The Omaha Public Power District spent about $20 million in June battling unprecedented Missouri River flooding and $6.1 million replacing electricity that would have been generated by a flood-idled nuclear plant.
The Nebraska Public Power District, which has facilities at less risk to flooding, has spent about $1 million.
OPPD's costs will mount as summer wears on, but southeast Nebraskans and businesses may be spared a significant share of that burden because OPPD, as a publicly owned utility, can tap into federal disaster assistance. The utility also anticipates some payments from its insurers.
“The costs are a concern for us. We're watching them closely, but we've got ... $3 billion in assets in harm's way,” Gary Gates, OPPD's president and chief executive, told his board Tuesday.
Gates said the utility has focused intently on protecting its power plants, not only because of their value, but because the electricity they produce is crucial to public well-being and the economy.
OPPD has one nuclear power plant, seven coal-fired units, transmission lines and other equipment at risk.
Power plants must be built near bodies of water because steam is needed to generate electricity, and additional water is needed to cool them.
OPPD has two large coal-fired units near Nebraska City and five smaller ones in north Omaha.
Tim Burke, OPPD's vice president of customer service and public affairs, said the utility will have a better idea in August of the flood's effects on customer rates. To forestall the need for a rate increase, the utility has cut or delayed about $9 million in expenses this year.
Additionally, OPPD is seeking a waiver from FEMA restrictions that prohibit the federal government from paying to replace electricity that would have been generated by the nuclear plant. The Federal Emergency Management Agency typically covers only governmental costs spent battling a disaster or rebuilding after one.
The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station averages about 25 percent of OPPD's net power generation and can generate electricity at a cost of about $34 a megawatt hour. Replacement power contracts OPPD has in place for July average about $38 per megawatt hour, or 12 percent more.
For July, OPPD has contracts for 300 megawatts of outside power, said Jon Hansen, vice president of energy production and marketing. About one-third of that is coming from another of the state's major utilities, NPPD. The Western Area Power Administration, which runs the nation's system of hydropower dams, also is a significant source.
OPPD is also battling flooding at its coal plants and closely monitoring transmission lines, said Hansen and Mohamad I. Doghman, vice president of power grid and energy delivery.
Transmission lines that are “very vital, very critical to the region” are “holding up nicely,” Doghman told the board.
“Overall, our system is well-protected,” he said.
Hansen told the board that the levee protecting OPPD's Nebraska City plants has been raised another foot, and a backup earthen berm has been built. Additionally, equipment at a substation there has been protected by a third line of defense — sandbags — in case breaches occur in the levee and berm. The utility also has a portable water-filled dam available if needed.
The Nebraska City coal facility is OPPD's single largest power-generation site.
At that site, the utility must elevate 1.5 miles of rail line submerged by flooding, Hansen told the board. Elevating that line could cost up to $2.6 million. The utility has been getting coal to the two plants via a parallel rail line.
The utility already elevated two other sections of track, one at Nebraska City and the other into the Omaha coal stations.
OPPD provides electricity to 754,000 people in southeast Nebraska, including the Omaha metro area.
Most of the $1 million NPPD has spent — $892,000 — has gone toward protecting Cooper Nuclear Station, said Mark Becker, spokesman. That is NPPD's sole Missouri River power plant. The remainder of its expenses have protected facilities in central, west, and northeast Nebraska.
NPPD provides about 1 million Nebraskans with electricity, either directly or indirectly.
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