NPPD helps put state on path to hydrogen future

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NPPD has been criticized as not moving toward renewable energy sources such as wind and solar quickly enough, but just in time for Earth Day on Wednesday, Nebraska's publicly-owned utility has announced a major step toward more "green" energy.

One of the coal-fired boilers at Sheldon Station near Hallam will be replaced with one that burns hydrogen, producing mostly water vapor in the process of making electricity.

The hydrogen is produced as a by-product of Monolith Materials' nearby production of carbon black using natural gas. Carbon black is used in everything from tires to paint to copier toner toe electronics. Monolith prides itself in producing the product in an environmentally-friendly way.

NPPD says the switch will reduce Sheldon Station's CO2 emissions by 1.1 million tons per year while generating 125 megawatts of electricity.

Sheldon Station has a storied past.

It was the first nuclear power plant in the state, built as an experimental unit between 1958 and 1963 for the Atomic Energy Commission, then decommissioned and the equipment and parts sent to other nuclear plants or disposal sites. What couldn't be moved was sealed and buried in large vaults beneath the plant, which are regularly monitored.

The plant was converted to coal, and generated a record 1,442,114 MWh in 2002. However, today it would take costly updates to continue burning coal while meeting new environmental regulations.

NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope notes that the project is not dependent on federal government grants or loan guarantees, but instead uses innovative technology and low-cost natural gas to produce power at market competitive proces.

"This private business-led solution has the potential to support 600 new jobs and hundreds of millions of new capital investment in the state of Nebraska," said Gov. Pete Ricketts.

"This is the first large-scale utility operation to generate electricity through the use of hydrogen and something in which NPPD takes pride in having the opportunity to lead the way."

NPPD and Monolith Materials expect to break ground on their respective operations in 2016 and complete construction in 2019.

The Sheldon Station - Monolith arrangement is unique, and can't be duplicated easily or economically everywhere we'd like to generate electricity.

However, there are other innovative opportunities to be explored, such as clean ways to use waste methane from feedlots and landfills, or using waste heat and byproducts from ethanol plants and other industrial installations.

Kudos to NPPD and Monolith for thinking outside the box to the benefit of Nebraska electrical customers.

See more about the Sheldon Station here.

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