Residents Call for Local Clean Energy Development to Replace Outdated Power Plant
OMAHA –(ENEWSPF)–May 16, 2013. Today, a broad coalition of North Omaha residents, health professionals and students delivered nearly 1,000 signatures at the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) monthly meeting, calling on the public power utility to address public health concerns in the community by phasing out coal-burning at the North Omaha power plant and investing in clean energy, like wind and solar. According to the Clean Air Task Force, a nonpartisan research group, pollution from burning coal at OPPD’s North Omaha coal-fired power plant has been linked 240 asthma attacks, 22 heart attacks and 14 premature deaths annually, as well as more than $100 million each year in health and environmental related costs which are passed on to taxpayers.
“The pollutants released from burning coal at the North Omaha power plant – like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide – can be extremely irritating to the throat and to the lungs, triggering asthma attacks and contributing to larger health issues,”Cynthia Tiedeman, Omaha resident and retired Omaha Public School District nurse. “As a former school nurse, I know the disruptive and devastating effect that coping with constant asthma attacks can have on children and their parents. Kids in North Omaha deserve better than pollution from an outdated coal plant in their backyards.”
Representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Malcolm X Foundation, the Sierra Club and other organizations testified at the OPPD board meeting, asking for the utility to collaborate on a plan to clean up or phase out the outdated power plant and invest in clean energy.
OPPD’s North Omaha coal-fired power plant burns Wyoming coal, sending millions of Nebraska dollars out of state every year. The price of coal continues to rise, and the cost to modernize a coal-fired power-plant like the North Omaha coal-fired power plant could double or triple the cost of the electricity it produces. The 50-year-old coal plant emits more than 300 pounds of mercury each year. Of the 51 coal plants located in metropolitan areas the size of Omaha and larger, North Omaha Station ranks first in mercury emissions
MidAmerican Energy in Iowa announced last week that the company would invest $1.9 billion dollars in wind energy development, bringing the utility’s dependence on wind energy to 40 percent. Wind energy development is stalled in Nebraska, with only 2.9 percent of the state’s energy coming from wind. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Nebraska trumps Iowa in wind energy potential, ranking fourth in the nation.
“If OPPD is looking to keep rates low for customers in Omaha, they only need to look across the state line to Iowa,” said David Corbin, Retired Professor from the University of Nebraska – Omaha Public Health Department. “MidAmerican Energy has doubled down on wind energy, and their customers enjoy cleaner air and lower rates. Burning coal at the North Omaha coal plant hurts residents two-fold: on their medical bills, and on their electric bills. Clean energy is the right choice for health and for Nebraska’s economy.”
MidAmerican’s clean energy expansion comes on the heels of an announcement by Facebook to build a new data center near Des Moines, Iowa, to strengthen its computing power and support new cloud-based Web services. The company chose the Iowa site over a potential site in Kearney, Neb., citing Iowa’s options for renewable energy for the data center. Facebook has a company-wide goal of drawing 25 percent of data center power from renewable sources by 2015. MidAmerican Energy, which gets a quarter of its energy from wind power, will supply power for Facebook’s new Iowa data center. Google operates a similar data center in Council Bluffs, which it plans to expand.
“Nebraska is a public power state – that means we’re the customer owners of OPPD and we have the power to insist on clean energy and clean air,” said Vernon Muhammad, North Omaha resident and father. “Where you live should not determine whether or not your child can breathe clean air. Staying hooked on coal is a bad investment for OPPD economically, and even worse, it is unjust. Our neighbors in Iowa are leading the nation in wind energy development, and we’re falling far behind. Clean energy and energy efficiency will reduce dependence on OPPD’s outdated coal plant, and keep Nebraska competitive with other states for big opportunities.”
A report released last year by NAACP, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People, found that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by health-threatening pollution from coal-fired power plants. Based on national analysis, the report ranked OPPD’s North Omaha power plant as one of the twenty worst violators of environmental justice, and gave the plant a letter grade of “F.” In Omaha, the Douglas County Health Department reported that 18 percent of African Americans in Omaha have asthma, far exceeding the citywide average of 8.9 percent.
“One community should not have to pay for OPPD’s bad energy mix while others profit,” said Sharif Liwaru, President, Malcolm X Foundation. “Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected, and Google has played a large role in the democratization of information-sharing. Both large companies have renewable energy goals. Based on the mission and goals of both companies, it would not make sense to base a company location in a place that is powered by coal, where one community faces the brunt of pollution while other communities prosper. We need to be sure that North Omaha and Nebraska as a whole do not get left behind because we’re clinging to the past. It is time to phase out the North Omaha coal plant and invest in clean energy.”