How Public Power is Growing the Silicon Prairie

Flexibility in public power rate setting is why Omaha Public Power District has attracted Facebook, and how its driving growth in the Silicon Prairie.

PAPILLION, NEB. -- Construction has already begun on Facebook's new data center in the Nebraska city of Papillion, thanks to a public power rate structure that gives flexibility in how large customers meet their energy goals.

Under Rate 261M, Facebook will procure 100 percent renewable energy for their new Sarpy County data center. 261M rates cover fixed costs, including generation and system capacity, transmission and administration, according to the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD).

OPPD, a public corporation and one of the largest publicly owned electric utilities in the U.S., and its independent rate consultant, The Brattle Group, completed the process early in 2017. Facebook signed the deal in April.

The public power model enables us to be agile and customer-focused, so we were able to respond quickly with a workable solution, not only for Facebook, but for future economic development projects that would benefit our service territory,” said  Tim Burke, OPPD president and chief executive officer.

Facebook's 146-acre Sarpy County campus will be composed of two 450,000-square-foot buildings and a 70,000-square-foot administrative building, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Facebook's 6th data center in the United States is expected to go online in 2020.

Facebook's ability to power the new data center through wind-generated electricity was a key component of the deal, according to Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.

OPPD's Requirements

To qualify, a customer must require a minimum of 20 megawatts (MW) of demand for 161-kilovolt (kV) service and 200 MW of demand for 345-kV service.

OPPD allows 18 months before that minimum usage requirement begin.

A customer also needs to own or acquire its own substation.

Renewable Energy Demands are Growing

“OPPD has done the hard work of carefully evaluating their rates to find every value for the renewable energy buyer without shifting costs to the other customers,” said Letha Tawney, director of utility innovation at World Resources Institute (WRI).

WRI is a founding partner in the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, a non-governmental organization-led network supporting the renewable energy goals of the Fortune 500.

Tawney credited OPPD for its pioneering efforts in accommodating renewable energy goals.

“OPPD has shown that public power can meet the ambitious demand for clean energy from large customers, and we hope other public power agencies take up the example,” she said. “The scale of the demand from corporate buyers is only growing.”

Another large OPPD customer in La Vista agreed.

Brett Illers, senior program manager for sustainability at Yahoo said, "Yahoo has long advocated for these types of solutions, and we look forward to adopting this rate to help bring our growing Nebraska facilities to complete renewable energy consumption.”

Facebook's 2018 goal is using 50 percent clean and renewable energy in its data centers' electricity supplies.

OPPD's flexible energy rate is expected to attract more energy-conscious large corporations to the area, Burke said.

Fidelity, Cabela’s and Travelers also operate data centers in Sarpy County.

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