Solar farms are sprouting across Nebraska. A growing number of cities plan to build new or expand current solar farms, according to an article in the Norfolk Daily News. More than six cities in the state have expressed interest in taking part in the Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) SunWise Community Solar Program, which was approved in 2016 to offer cities solar power in central locations for residential use.
The program is available in three cities so far: Kearney, Scottsbluff and Venango, with 161 customers participating and approximately 7,151 solar shares available in total for all three facilities. These solar farms, launched since 2017, enable customers to buy their own solar panels or pay a one-time fee to use power generated from the farm. NPPD arrays enable Nebraska residents to buy solar energy without needing to install rooftop panels or home-based systems, according to the NPPD website.
Current solar farms are being expanded and new ones are being built in order to keep up with high demand in the state. Nebraska’s first solar farm sold power to 217 residents within seven weeks.
In 2015, NPPD and MSR Group conducted community solar focus groups in Kearney and Scottsbluff to gauge public interest in community solar, according to Pat Hanrahan, business manager for NPPD’s Retail Division. And in 2017, NPPD commissioned two pilot solar facility installations in Scottsbluff (128 kW) and Venango (96 kW). The facility in Kearney (5.76 MW) came online in December 2017. NPPD is currently working with Scottsbluff to add a second community solar facility, rated at 5 MW.
Kearney currently has Nebraska’s largest community solar array—53 acres that meet about 5 percent of the city’s peak energy needs, or enough to power 900 homes. Kearney city officials have sold or reserved about 90 percent of the shares and plan to recruit businesses that want to use green energy for the rest. The University of Nebraska-Kearney bought half of the total shares in the Kearney unit.
“NPPD is certainly seeing an increased interest in renewable resources, particularly in solar, both from residential customers and larger commercial and industrial customers,” Hanrahan said in an email. “A number of wholesale public power districts and communities (Custer Public Power District and the communities of Lexington and Central City) have solar units in place, but NPPD is primarily focused on the retail communities we serve.”
Solar energy has spread more quickly in certain areas of the state because of Nebraska’s patchwork of local public utilities, according to the article. States with higher electric rates have typically seen more solar energy projects. As Nebraska’s rates rise, solar energy becomes more attainable.
NPPD works to ensure the land they build the farms on is close enough to work with the electric grid, and that the grid can handle additional power.
Nebraska officials are encouraging the technology’s growth in the state. Last May, Sen. Rick Kolowski, of Omaha, introduced a legislative study to explore ways to promote solar energy. The Senator believes the study could lead to legislation that may provide incentives or tax breaks for solar technology and encourage the state to use renewable resources effectively.
Some officials are concerned about the rising tariffs on aluminum and steel, which are used for solar arrays, according to the article. President Trump recently imposed a 30 percent import tariff on Chinese solar panels, and also signed a bill to extend a federal solar tax credit for homeowners that expires in 2021.