- Associated Press - Sunday, February 17, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) - Nearly two years ago, the Nebraska Public Power District embarked on a 128-kilowatt solar array, located at its office in Scottsbluff. When the project went live, the created renewable energy was sent to the electric grid.

The Scottsbluff project sold out within days of launch in 2017 when NPPD customers in Scottsbluff took advantage of the opportunity to purchase all the potential shares in the solar unit. Since the project went live, the Scottsbluff facility has been able to generate more than 350,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, including over 200,000 kWh in 2018. Its highest producing months included June 2017 when 26,885 kWh were generates as well as July 2017 (25,745 kWh) and July 2018 (24,839 kWh).

After the success of the first project, the city approached NPPD with the opportunity for a second, much larger project.

“The first one was pretty small compared to this one,” said Tim Arlt, NPPD retail general manager.

The positive response from the community for the project has led the city of Scottsbluff to begin a second community solar project with developer SolSystems. The new project will be significantly larger at 4.6 megawatts, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald reported.

The city of Scottsbluff is also a retail community for NPPD. The city owns the infrastructure and has NPPD run it. With a new professional agreement, the city can generate 10 percent of overall load as renewable.

The initial projections for the first project were slightly higher than actual results, but not too far off, Arlt said. New projects, such as community solar, will always require flexibility because nothing is ever 100 percent assured. During the second launch, NPPD has a much better idea of how things work and hope to be even closer to their projected numbers.

“We needed to learn that one of the benefits of getting projects started right away is that we need to ratchet down just a little bit,” Arlt said.

During the initial sign up for the community solar project in 2017, Scottsbluff customers who purchased shares - 150 kilowatt hours per share - paid a higher premium. With the second community solar project, all subscribers will see a bill credit for the community solar shares. Solar share prices will be blended together, resulting in a production cost savings to all solar program participants.

The community solar projects are not subsidized in any way. Communities that choose not to participate in a community solar project do not pay any costs associated with the facilities that do.

“NPPD working with its partner communities established clear guidelines that prohibited cost shifts or subsidies,” Arlt said. “Our Community Solar program is specifically designed to not shift costs to others or to subsidize the program.”

An end-use customer who decides not to participate in community solar will not have their bill impacted at all.

Since the first project was a success, and there are 15-20 people on the waiting list, the two projects will blend the rates, which is still slightly lower than traditional electricity rates.

The blended approach will result in a line item on the bill of customers who have signed up to participate in the program.

“Everyone will see a credit once the second project goes commercial,” Arlt said.

The city of Scottsbluff has put as much of its infrastructure - buildings, street lights, etc. - as it can in NPPD policies.

“It should cover around 57 percent of blended shares,” said Nathan Johnson, Scottsbluff city manager. “We intend to put as many city assets on the grid to reduce our carbon footprint and stabilize costs.”

A power purchase agreement signed by the city will lock the rates in for 25 years.

“Not only are we saving in initial costs, we are also locking in that rate for as many city assets as we can for the next 25 years,” Johnson said.

The move will not cost the city anything due to the agreements between public and private entities and the city working with NPPD to make the project come to life.

“The private developers will handle the upfront costs to buy the panels and construct it,” Johnson said. “They will get paid back through this power purchase agreement.”

Mark Becker, supervisor, NPPD corporate media and media services, said he and NPPD staff have appreciated working with the city and Johnson.

“It’s been great for both the city and NPPD,” Becker said.

Currently, NPPD rates in Scottsbluff for community solar programs are the lowest in the state.

The new 4.6 megawatt project will be near the Alan C. Landers Soccer Complex at the northern end of Scottsbluff.

“It will be on the south and east sides where there is an area of native grass that isn’t maintained,” Johnson said. “It will be over top of the grass and connect into the grid there.”

Construction is expected to begin at the end of spring with an operational date during the fourth quarter of 2019, Arlt said.

NPPD’s Sunwise Community Solar program currently includes two other units, a 98-kilowatt unit operating in Venango and a 5.7-megawatt facility in Kearney, which is currently the largest solar facility in Nebraska. NPPD is also progressing toward finishing community solar projects in Norfolk, Chadron, O’Neill, Ainsworth Pawnee City and Loup City.


Information from: Star-Herald, http://www.starherald.com

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