Studying the Future of Electricity in Nebraska

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The Nebraska Public Power District is taking customers "Behind the Outlet" during a series of open houses across the state.

NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope says they're looking at new ways to keep the electricity on across Nebraska.

"We have folks that are certainly interested in renewables, that being wind primarily in Nebraska, but we also have folks that are very very concerned about what the rates will do and how do we keep our rates as low as possible," says Pope.

Pope says NPPD is sharing their studies of generating options that could sustain those low rates with customers.

Generation Strategies Manager John Swanson says one of those options could be Compressed Air Energy Storage.

"Compressed energy storage basically has the ability to both be a load on the system as well as be a generator," says Swanson.

Swanson says Compressed Air Energy Storage works like a giant battery: when there's excess energy on the grid (for instance, during a very windy day when wind power is generating more than is needed), the compressors can make that energy into compressed air and store it underground. Then during a high load time the air can be released and turned back intro electricity.

Swanson says a storage system like CAES can help power plants operate more efficiently because they can keep operating at their "sweet spot."

"If you need all of that energy at that time, that's great it has a load, it has a place to go," Swanson says. "If you don't then [plants] needs to start backing down their generation."

For now NPPD is only studying options like CAES. Pope says they will give an integrated resource plan to the NPPD board sometime next year.

NPPD is going to develop a plan to try a CAES project in a former natural gas storage unit near Big Springs.

Only one CAES facility exists in the United States - it got it's start in Alabama in 1993, and Swanson says officials there say they use it nearly every day.