By Associated Press - Thursday, June 19, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha Public Power District board has decided to phase out coal to generate electrical power at its Omaha plant.

The board said Thursday that the changes will let the utility comply with government regulations to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions.

The board has approved a plan to retire three units at its north Omaha plant by 2016. The two remaining generating units would remain on coal but be retrofitted with more emission controls. They eventually would be altered to run on natural gas by 2023. A station unit in Nebraska City also will be retrofitted in 2016.

OPPD President Gary Gates said the decision was based on customer feedback, combined with extensive research and analysis conducted by the district.

“It maintains our commitment to affordability, reliability and environmental sensitivity, which is what our customers told us they wanted,” he said.

According to the district, customers who provided input said they realized that the new federal changes would lead higher energy costs, but they indicated that they were willing to pay a slight increase. OPPD said in a statement that the new measure will have a “minimal impact” on customer rates, ranging somewhere from 0 to 2 percent over a 20-year period.

Ken Winston, a policy advocate for the Sierra Club’s Nebraska chapter, said the decision represents a major step toward cost-effective, clean energy in Nebraska. Winston praised the district board for showing strong leadership on the issue, and said his group hopes to carry the message to other power districts.

“It’s a win on a lot of levels,” Winston said. “It’s economically viable, it’s environmentally responsible, and it’s also responsive to the will of the ratepayers.”

OPPD serves nearly 789,000 people in eastern and southeast Nebraska and covers all or part of 13 Nebraska counties.

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