The most solar power in state history should flow into the electrical outlets of eastern Nebraska homes and businesses by 2024.
That’s when the Omaha Public Power District aims to finish Nebraska’s largest solar power project, building it in or near the 13 counties OPPD serves. The new solar farms could be located in more than one site.
Bids received could include options for OPPD to run the solar power units itself with OPPD employees, or to buy the power produced by a private partner, which would operate the units.
If OPPD aims only to buy the power from the partner, it could sign a 20-year deal to make it financially feasible for a private company to assume the costs.
If the utility plans to eventually take over solar production, OPPD could instead choose a bid with an option to buy out its partner.
OPPD last year had the ability to generate nearly 2,700 megawatts of electricity and had contracts to buy hundreds more.
The OPPD board in November approved allowing management to negotiate with potential bidders outside of the public utility’s normal bidding process.
Board members say they expect this change to help management fetch a better price for ratepayers than initial cost estimates of up to $1 billion.
Managers say negotiating this way lets them get more specific with bidders about the utility’s needs than they could in a public bidding process.
It also keeps landowners from overpricing land the utility or contractor might need to purchase, Tim Burke, OPPD president, told The World-Herald.
“We will negotiate and come up with alternatives,” Burke said. “And we will share those with the board.”
Some observers have questioned whether it was wise for OPPD to circumvent a public bidding process.
But management points out that it secured lower-than-projected costs of decontamination work at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station by using a similar process.
That project appears likely to save about $40 million on deconstructing and storing parts of the former nuclear power plant, Burke said.
“I don’t love the process, but it makes sense,” said Craig Moody, an OPPD board member who is part of a board majority that wants the utility to move away from coal power.
The 350 megawatts lost from those coal plants will be replaced by the two new gas plants OPPD will bid out once it decides where to build the solar.
After a World-Herald public records request, OPPD declined to release bid-related documents. Officials cited security exemptions in state statute written to protect critical infrastructure, including the power grid, and proprietary information.
Companies expressing interest in bidding were required to sign nondisclosure agreements to receive the bid-related documents.
Courtney Kennedy, OPPD’s alternative energy program manager, briefed the newspaper on information from the documents.
Here are some highlights about the project from that briefing, other public records and interviews with OPPD management:
- OPPD does not expect to raise electricity rates or fees to build and operate the new solar power or gas, Burke said. It wants to offset costs the way it does with other power production, by selling any new power that OPPD customers don’t use.
- The solar project will have to be built in Nebraska, under the bid request, and contractors might get knocked down a peg for building in a floodplain.
- This new solar power won’t radiate from a single, massive 3,000-acre solar farm. It’ll spread solar power production among two to a dozen sites.
- OPPD prefers solar farms that produce 50 to 250 megawatts of electricity, which management says gives ratepayers the most bang for their buck.
- A key reason OPPD wants separate solar farms is to reduce the chances that a single disaster — a flood, wind or terror attack — stops solar power production.
- Building multiple sites also boosts the chances the sun will shine at some sites, reducing how often OPPD has to use backup power from the gas plants.
- OPPD intends to place the solar farms strategically, near OPPD power transmission lines, where they’re needed in the power grid.
- The new solar sites will set aside land for future potential battery storage that might make solar power more reliable as battery technology improves.
- The new natural gas plants will be able to offer backup power in less than an hour, versus 18 to 20 hours to ramp up the north Omaha coal units.
1 of 90
Rain clouds and a bit of a rainbow roll over the Millard, Nebraska, sky on Aug. 16, 2016.
The sun sets behind a center pivot located north of Red Cloud, Nebraska, on Thursday, July 27, 2006.
Storm clouds hide the sun as it sets over Nebraska's Sand Hills on July 7, 2009, near Thedord, Nebraska.
A summer storm passes north of Rose, Nebraska, on Sunday, June 10, 2007.
A rainbow forms over U.S. Highway 12, just east of Valentine, Nebraska, as storms roll over the area on July 25, 2017.
The sun sets behind an approaching storm as a car heads west on U.S. Highway 34 near Union, Nebraska, on April 24, 2016.
Icicles form on vines in downtown Omaha on Feb. 24, 2017.
Railroad tracks are illuminated by the setting sun on May 3, 2017, east of Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
The sun sets behind Chimney Rock on May 3, 2017.
Members of the Boats, Bikes, Boots & Brews group head to shore as the sun sets after an evening out on Lake Zorinsky on April 22, 2015.
Icicles hang from the horse carriage parking sign in the Old Market on Jan. 15, 2017.
Wheat, ready for the combine, is silhouetted by the setting sun as the wheat harvest on the Lagler farm near Grant, Nebraska, was in full swing on July 7, 2005.
A layer of fog covers the Missouri River near the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge on Feb. 5, 2015.
A setting sun creates a pink haze on a windmill and the Sand Hills southwest of Rushville, Nebraska, on Sept. 22, 2007.
Pigeons scatter at sunset as the St. John's steeple is silhouetted against the Woodmen tower in downtown Omaha on Oct. 3, 2014.
The sun bursts behind the clouds over the North Platte River east of Bridgeport, Nebraska, on July 26, 2006.
Steve Jobman, a farmer south of Minatare, Nebraska, cuts alfalfa after sunset on June 2, 2004.
Wheat waves in the wind in a field west of Dalton, Nebraska, on July 18, 2001.
The moon rises over the northern cross of the St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha on Feb. 10, 2017. On this night, there was a full moon, a lunar eclipse and comet 45P passed by the earth.
As the wind speed picks up, a woman holds onto her hood while crossing 16th Street along Dodge Street in Omaha on Feb. 24, 2017.
From left: Melody Borcherding, Kseniya Burgoon and Michael Beltz scoop out a vehicle on Jan. 23, 2018, in Norfolk.
Jeff Bachman harvests soybeans and prepares to transfer them as the sun sets on a field near Ayr, Nebraska, on Oct. 19, 2008.
As the sun sets, sandhill cranes arrive to roost in the Platte River at the Rowe Sanctuary & Iain Nicholson Audubon Center south of Gibbon, Nebraska, on March 12, 2008.
A pair of sandhill cranes pass in front of the moon shortly after sunrise at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, Nebraska, on March 13, 2012. Sandhill cranes, which mate for life, can live between 20 and 40 years.
A windmill is dwarfed by storm clouds near Crawford, Nebraska, on May 3, 2017.
An early November storm system rolls through the Great Plains, but Omaha only receives rain, which collected on freshly-fallen leaves on Nov. 11, 2015.
Cattle head up to a well to get a drink at the end of the day near Sparks, Nebraska, on Aug. 21, 2015. Smoke from the wildfires in the western states created a haze.
The moon rises above the corn as farmers harvest the last of their fields in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa on Nov. 5, 2014.
Two riders help round up part of the 750 head of cattle branded at the Lute Family Ranch, located south of Hyannis, Nebraska, on May 12, 2005. Mick Knott, who runs the ranch, owns about half the cattle, and the Lute Foundation owns the rest. The work started about dawn and finished about noon.
The rising sun illuminates a tree and a windmill in a snow-covered field located on U.S. Highway 20 between Rushville and Chadron, Nebraska, on March 1, 2017.
The College Home Run Derby was held at TD Ameritrade Park and was highlighted by The World-Herald's annual Independence Day fireworks display on July 2, 2015.
Fog rises from the Missouri River and covers the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge on Jan. 5, 2010.
The weekend's perfect weather colored the clouds at sunset south of Wymore, Nebraska, on Oct. 23, 2004.
Deer chill out at Chalco Hills Recreation Area on Feb. 22, 2018.
A leaf is covered in a dusting of snow near 138th and Hickory Streets on Dec. 18, 2014, in Millard.
A runner emerges from the edge of the rising sun on Sept. 11, 2015, at Zorinsky Lake Park and Recreation Area in Omaha.
Nearly 45 minutes after sunset, an orange and blue glow is seen setting behind the Omaha skyline flanked between trees in Council Bluffs on Jan. 11, 2018.
Rain drops collect on a flower following early showers on May 10, 2017, in Millard.
The promise of rain is fleeting for the seven windmills on the Watson Ranch north of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, on U.S. 71 on May 16, 2004.
A crescent moon sets behind the UNO bell tower on Nov. 6, 2013.
Ralph Remmert is depicted in the mural "Fertile Ground" near 13th and Mike Fahey Streets in north downtown Omaha on June 19, 2017.
Ralph Kohler, 94, keeps his eyes to the sky for ducks and geese as the sun rises over his hunting pond east of Tekamah, Nebraska, on Nov. 30, 2011. Kohler has been a professional guide for most of his life, and he is preparing for the spring season.
The sun rises over St. Paul Lutheran Church, located three miles north of Republican City, Nebraska, in March of 2004.
Geese are silhouetted in the color and clouds as the sun sets at Zorinsky Lake on Feb. 21, 2016.
The sun rises on Chimney Rock on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, near McGrew, Nebraska.
Cranes walk through the shallow water of the Platte River shortly before sunset near The Crane Trust, which is close to Wood River, Nebraska, on March 13, 2012. The river provides cranes with a safe place from predators for rest at night.
A bespangled vest awaits a rider during Nebraska's Big Rodeo on July 25, 2013, in Burwell, Nebraska.
Horses stand in the snow on Feb. 22, 2018.
Residents of the Nebraska Panhandle enjoyed unseasonably mild temperatures and cloud cover on Aug. 12, 2004.
Members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association hold their hats as 2013 Miss Burwell Rodeo Olivia Hunsperger passes by during the opening ceremonies on July 27, 2013, in Burwell, Nebraska. "This may be a small town, but it's got a big rodeo, and it's got a really big heart," Hunsperger said.
A break in the clouds highlights downtown Omaha as seen from Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs, as severe storms passed through the Omaha Metro area on June 5, 2014.
John Wanief waits for the bus in a shelter at 120th Street and West Center Road as cold rain pours down in Millard on Nov. 11, 2015.
Flocks of waterfowl fill the sky as the sun rises over Ponca, Nebraska, on March 3, 2018.