COLUMBUS — Nebraska Public Power District plans to boost output at Cooper Nuclear Station to meet increasing energy demands.

The utility’s board of directors unanimously approved a $243 million project Friday that will increase production at the nuclear power plant near Brownville by 18 percent beginning in 2018.

The extended power uprate (EPU) will take Cooper’s generating capacity from 800 to 946 megawatts and requires no additional facilities or employees.

NPPD is expecting increased electricity demands in the near future, including power needed to run pumping stations along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“Other benefits of an EPU include increasing the amount of electricity we can produce from a non-carbon producing resource, when potential greenhouse gas regulations are on the horizon,” said Pat Pope, NPPD’s CEO and president. “In addition, off-system sales from the facility into the regional energy market could be a significant benefit to Nebraska customers when such revenues are returned and put toward NPPD’s operational expenses.”

According to spokesman Mark Becker, NPPD currently receives about 40 percent of its power from non-carbon emitting sources, such as wind, hydro and nuclear, with nuclear energy supplying the majority of this amount.

The cost of electricity produced at Cooper is also expected to decline once the improvements are in place, Becker said, and the plant will operate for 24 months instead of 18 between costly refueling outages.

Capital investments, to be funded with bonds, include replacing the plant’s high-pressure turbine and $60 million in modifications already needed to meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission relicensing requirements. Most of the equipment will be installed during maintenance and refueling outages in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

The board of directors also approved the purchase of a $14.19 million monitoring system as part of the project and authorized a $30.5 million contract with GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Americas LLC to evaluate the plant and delivery system ahead of the production increase.

NPPD must receive approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Nebraska Power Review Board before increased production can begin.

Becker said there is no timeline for when those decisions will be made.

Director Wayne Boyd of South Sioux City, a long-time proponent of nuclear power, said the increased generating capacity will be relied upon “quite heavily” in the future.

“This is something that I have thought was a good program for the district,” said Boyd, who attended his last board meeting Friday after 31 years as a director.

Director Mary Harding of Lincoln also called the extended power uprate a good decision, but said it doesn’t mean NPPD will focus less on other generation options and energy-efficiency efforts.

Later that meeting, the board of directors authorized management to pursue long-term agreements for up to 75 megawatts of electricity from Prairie Breeze Wind Farm near Elgin, which is set to begin operation in January 2014, or a potential wind farm development near Steele City.

Any agreement would be contingent on the renewal of the federal Production Tax Credit for wind projects that’s set to expire at the end of this month.

NPPD began working on the project after a large industrial customer said it wanted to buy 25 to 35 megawatts of wind energy to meet its corporate goal of having 25 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy by 2013.

The industrial customer would sign a separate agreement with the developer and NPPD would purchase the remaining power.

Becker declined to name the customer, but BD Medical in Columbus has previously been named as a company interested in a new green rate that allows customers to buy into wind farm developments.

NPPD has a strategic goal to produce 10 percent of its electricity from renewable energy resources by 2020. It now has six wind energy projects, totaling 202 megawatts.

The Lincoln Journal Star contributed to this story.

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