OPPD Plans Natural Gas Plant Along Fairview Road


A 5-megawatt community solar facility operated by the Omaha Public Power District is shown in July 2019 in Washington County. (OPPD)
By 
Elizabeth A. Elliott and Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

A change in zoning regulations appears to have dissuaded a public power utility from locking up land slated for development in Sarpy County.

County officials traded barbs with the Omaha Public Power District last year, resisting plans for a solar farm along Platteview Road – an area where the county has invested resources in building out sewer and transportation infrastructure.

OPPD tells The Daily Record that the utility will move forward with a natural gas backup generation site along Platteview Road, but it’s not made a decision where to locate the solar portion of its Power with a Purpose project, which seeks to move the utility toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Sarpy County has adopted zoning regulations that inhibit solar development by private developers in that county,” OPPD said in a statement to the newspaper. “We continue to analyze responses to our solar RFP for the generation of 400 to 600 megawatts of utility-scale solar within or near our 13-county service territory. These responses represent several potential sites. We are moving forward with our plans for natural gas backup generation within Sarpy County.”

OPPD issued a request for proposals in October 2019, kicking off a project designed to decarbonize the utility that provides electricity in the greater Omaha area. The Sarpy County Board of Commissioners put out a statement last spring criticizing the utility’s initial plan to place the solar farm and natural gas plant on roughly 1,200 acres of land in the county’s future development zone.

Don Kelly said county found out about OPPD’s solar farm project after the initial plans were made. 

“We’ve been at odds with them over that ever since,” Kelly said. “The reason is not that we don’t support solar, but the financial model of our whole sewer agency is predicated on that area being developed. If you take thousands of acres of land off the tax rolls, it is going to have a huge financial impact on Sarpy County.”

County officials are planning for private development in the area to fund sewer expansions and help pay for the cost of extending services in the state’s fastest-growing county.

Last summer, the county estimated the financial impact of the project at a loss of $975 million in taxable valuation.

That could result in 4,700 fewer housing units and 11,175 fewer residents along Platteview Road, according to county estimates. The project would have impacted future population density.

“The county’s current comprehensive plan calls for a more dense development that requires less time in the car, which leads to fewer emissions, which is better for the environment,” according to a statement issued last July. “The county will spend more on maintaining and building roads as people drive more and live farther away from the population center.”

The Sarpy County Board adopted new zoning requirements last summer that, among other regulations, classifies a solar farm as a special use requiring a permit.

OPPD says no decision has been made about the solar project, but it will move forward with a natural gas project in Sarpy County.

“The siting and sourcing process for solar is different than for natural gas,” OPPD told The Daily Record. “For solar, we will be working with developers with sites they identify. But for natural gas, OPPD does the siting of all assets. To that end, we are planning for natural gas generation facilities at two locations, including the Papillion site at 168th and Fairview located near the county landfill.”

The Fairview Road site is about 116 acres, and the facility will generate between 400 and 450 megawatts of electricity. The facility is estimated to cost $397 million.

OPPD will also build a natural gas plant near 120th Street and Military Avenue in Omaha on a 118-acre site owned by the Metropolitan Utilities District. The facility is estimated to cost $257 million and generate 100 to 150 megawatts.

The utility is currently evaluating proposals for internal combustion engines and simple-cycle combustion turbines, according to a statement.

Construction on the natural gas plant is slated to begin later this year and be completed by spring 2023.

Trenton Albers, communications manager for the City of Papillion, said the Fairview Road site made sense for OPPD natural gas plant. He said a final plat will go before the Papillion City Council before a public permit is approved for construction.

“The City of Papillion and OPPD had a good collaboration to address any concerns,” Albers said. “For OPPD, the site was desirable for a number of reasons including close proximity and easy access to existing natural gas lines and power lines. The site was also provided a good buffer to adjacent properties including being buffered on one side by the Sarpy County landfill.”

Albers said the site doesn’t compromise other surrounding development opportunities.

“From a Papillion perspective, as a city government we understand the importance of OPPD being able to provide proficient, affordable and predictable rates for their service and we understand how this project helps OPPD achieve those goals,” Albers said.

OPPD helps serve area residents while also attracting major developments. The Facebook, Google and Amazon projects in Papillion are all predicated on reliable access to affordable electricity.

Megan Stubenhofer-Barrett, communications manager for Sarpy County, said the Sarpy County Board was clear when they opposed the original location for the solar project.

“They also didn’t like the gas plant going in near the landfill,” she said. “Part of the problem with that area is OPPD doesn’t pay property taxes”

Taking properties off the tax rolls affects revenue slated to fund the Sarpy County and Sarpy Cities Wastewater Agency and the unified southern Sarpy County sewer system.

“If you take large swaths of land out of their jurisdiction, we then lose that potential revenue and it changes our financials significantly,” Stubenhofer-Barrett said.

OPPD said they continue to meet with officials in Sarpy County and other counties.

“We are committed to ongoing conversations in the best interest of all we serve in our mission to provide affordable, reliable, environmentally sensitive energy services,” the utility said.

For details on Power with a Purpose, visit oppdcommunityconnect.com/power-with-purpose. Find more information on the Sarpy County Board’s  position on the project at sarpy.com/about/county-news.

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