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Facebook to build renewable energy-powered data center in Nebraska

Facebook Inc. announced that it will build a new data center near Papillion, Neb., which will be powered with renewable energy, using a new tariff created by Omaha Public Power District. The Papillion Data Center will be one of the "most advanced, energy-efficient data centers in the world," according to Facebook. The company said the center will be powered with wind energy and that the project would not have been possible without a new tariff it worked closely with OPPD to design and implement.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will likely be invested by Facebook in the area long term, the company said, resulting in thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of long-term operational positions.

The new tariff, known as 261M, will allow Facebook and other customers to obtain and pay for renewable energy resources to cover their energy usage. It "gives customers flexibility in how they meet their energy goals, while charging fair and reasonable rates that cover OPPD's fixed costs, including generation and system capacity, transmission and administration," OPPD said in a press release.

Construction on the project, including a substation expansion and a new transmission line, will begin immediately, OPPD said. Further details on the renewable energy component will be made public in the next few months. The final version of OPPD's rate tariff was approved unanimously by its board of directors in January. To qualify for this rate, a customer must be large enough to meet certain criteria, such as requiring a minimum of 20 MW of demand for 161-kV service and 200 MW of demand for 345-kV service. A ramp-up period of 18 months will be permitted before the minimum usage requirement is implemented.

Transmission-level voltage

This is the first time OPPD "has served a customer at the 161-kV level, which is transmission-level voltage," according to Tim Nissen, director of transmission and distribution engineering for OPPD. "The innovative new rate developed in part by OPPD's Economic Development team helped make this type of service an attractive option," he said. "Typically, voltage is ramped down at substations before serving customers at a distribution voltage."

OPPD and Facebook will be co-owners of the substation, which should be finished by 2020, according to Nissen.

The work that went into developing the renewable tariff and the resulting Facebook investment is a "clear sign of the public power advantage," according to Tim O'Brien, OPPD's manager of economic development. "This rate structure is unique and companies are taking notice."

"We need to develop more sources of renewable energy, and it needs to be easier for companies of all kinds to access renewable energy," Facebook said in a statement. Nebraska is the only state in the country with only publicly owned power suppliers. In February, state legislators considered a bill that would authorize private electric companies to sell power in the state. According to sponsor Sen. Justin Wayne, that bill was intended to start a conversation in the legislature about the future of public power in the state, so that Nebraska's ratepayers and taxpayers are not paying unnecessary costs. Wayne maintained that the state's electricity market has changed significantly in the last few years because of its entry into the Southwest Power Pool.

Nebraska Public Power District, OPPD and Lincoln Electric System formally joined SPP in 2009.