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Cleaner Air Coming to Omaha as OPPD Announces Phase out of North Omaha Coal Plant

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North Omaha Community Members, Health and Environmental Groups to Support More Clean Energy Investment, Responsible Timeline for Coal Plant Retirement
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Emily Rosenwasser, Emily.Rosenwasser@sierraclub.org, 312-251-1680 x119
Graham Jordison, Graham.Jordison@sierraclub.org, 712-790-1566

OMAHA, Neb. – Today, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve plans to phase out the use of coal at its North Omaha coal-fired power plant, marking the culmination of years of calls from North Omaha community members to OPPD to reduce pollution in their neighborhood. OPPD cited its decision to phase out coal and invest in energy efficiency as the best course of action for its ratepayers.

“Today’s decision shows that ‘public’ still has meaning to Nebraska’s public power utilities,” said Graham Jordison, Field Organizer with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Omaha. “OPPD’s decision to stop burning coal and invest in clean energy is a smart investment that is responsive to the demands of the public while still safeguarding our economic and energy future. We look forward to collaborating with OPPD to create a responsible timeline for the transition of the plant that focuses on our best opportunities to build a strong clean energy economy here in Omaha.”

Today’s vote sets a plan for OPPD to retire three out of five coal-fired units at its North Omaha coal plant by 2016, with additional plans to install pollution controls and convert the two remaining coal-fired units to gas by 2023. The utility has also committed to more than 300 megawatts of energy savings to reduce demand. Finally, OPPD will install pollution controls on a unit at its Nebraska City coal plant.

“After years of speaking out as parents, neighbors and community members, OPPD has finally answered our calls to clean up our air by phasing out the aging North Omaha coal plant,” said Vernon Muhammad, North Omaha Community Member and Father. “My children and I will breathe easier knowing that cleaner air is coming to North Omaha.”

Today’s decision marks a departure from initial plans presented by OPPD to determine the future of the North Omaha coal-fired power plant. Of the five original options, unveiled at a May 7 meeting, four would have kept Omaha burning coal until 2030, and the final option failed to include any investment in clean energy.

In response to these options, community members showed up in force at the OPPD Board of Directors Meeting on May 15 to demand that the 60-year-old North Omaha coal-fired power plant be responsibly phased out and that clean energy investments become a key part of Omaha’s energy future.

Omaha’s public power utility began the shift away from coal to clean energy in 2013 with a historic announcement to invest in the Grande Prairie wind farm project in Holt County, Nebraska, which will power an estimated 118,000 homes. OPPD locked in a low price for the wind power, stabilizing  rates for customer-owners for years to come.

“From millions of dollars in local health costs, to millions of dollars OPPD spent annually to haul coal from Wyoming, to the constant and costly maintenance required by the outdated North Omaha coal plant, burning coal is extremely costly for OPPD customer-owners,” said Cynthia Tiedeman, Retired Nurse from Omaha Public Schools. “Transitioning to clean energy is the right move for Omaha.”

“This is a historic decision with benefits on many levels,” said Ken Winston with the Nebraska Sierra Club. “As an OPPD customer-owner, I appreciate the low electric rates this plan will provide. As a clean energy advocate, I know it protects our air and water. As a parent, I know it represents the greatest investment by one of our public power districts in our children’s future.”

“We applaud the OPPD Board of Directors for voting to phase out its outdated North Omaha coal plant and increasing its commitment to clean energy,” said Sharif Lirawu, President of the Malcolm X Foundation in North Omaha. “We urge OPPD to focus on the North Omaha community as it considers opportunities for energy efficiency investments to bring energy savings to members of our community that need it the most.”

We have a moral obligation to ensure that every person in our community and beyond has the same access to clean air and clean water,” said Laurie Gift with community organization Omaha Together One Community (OTOC). “Phasing out the North Omaha coal plant will reduce health risks along with reducing carbon emissions."

The announcement of the phase out of the North Omaha coal plant represents the 167th coal plant to retire or announce retirement since 2010, cutting nearly 246 million tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of 51 million passenger vehicles. Today, the United States has more than 61,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity and 13,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 20 million American homes.

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