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Norfolk solar project largest in state, relies on community input | Nebraska News

Some Nebraskans are finding out it literally pays to go green.

Norfolk has become the latest Nebraska community to make money off going solar — savings that are being shared with Norfolk businesses and citizens who signed up for solar energy. The city of about 24,400 is doing so through an 8.5 megawatt community solar farm that is going live within the next few weeks.

Electricity from the project will cost less than conventional electricity, resulting in savings to those customers who signed on. For participating residential customers, the savings can amount to as much as a $16.43 reduction in their monthly electric bill, said Grant Otten, spokesman for Nebraska Public Power District.

The solar farm is a project of Norfolk, NPPD and N Solar, a collaboration of three companies: Mesner Development Co., GenPro Energy Solutions and Sol Systems.

That solar has become so affordable isn’t surprising. The cost of large-scale solar farms has dropped dramatically in the past decade or so, by as much as 82%, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Andrew Grin, vice president of Sol Systems, said the electricity from this solar farm costs less than conventional electricity for several reasons. The team has worked with NPPD before and owns enough community projects in Nebraska that it can reduce its cost of operating and maintaining the solar panels. Additionally, Sol purchased equipment for this project in 2019, which allowed the developers to avoid recent supply-chain problems and enabled the project to benefit from an increased tax credit.

“The simple answer is due to the economies of scale and our experience in the state,” he said.

Here’s how the program works: Residents and businesses buy monthly shares in a newly built farm and in return get a monthly reduction on their energy bill that is larger than the share price.

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For Norfolk residential customers, each monthly solar share costs $6.15, while the corresponding rebate is $8.70. Customers also save through lower taxes and fees on their bills. Homeowners can purchase up to five shares. (Residents pay a one-time signup fee of $50 and get that money refunded after three years.)

All shares have sold out, and there is now a waiting list. Rebates began showing up on this month’s bills.

Randy Gates, finance director for Norfolk, said the city will save about $170,000 a year on its electric bills. The city’s residents and businesses will see a total savings of $132,000 a year, he said.

The new solar farm, at maximum output, generates the equivalent of about 10% of Norfolk’s peak demand for electricity, Otten said. Its output is the equivalent of the power needed by 1,250 homes. However, because it won’t operate 24/7, its actual annual impact will be less than that. The farm, which cost more than $10 million to build, is located on the west side of town.

In a community solar project, residents band together to help fund a solar farm. That differs from the home-based solar panels that people put on their own roofs or utility-scale solar projects, in which a utility funds the construction of the farm and receives the electricity.

NPPD has entered a 30-year agreement with Sol Systems to purchase the electricity at a fixed cost.

NPPD’s next community solar project will be in York, Otten said. Other communities that have formed solar partnerships with NPPD are: Kearney, Scottsbluff, Venango and Ainsworth.

The Omaha Public Power District has a 5-megawatt community solar farm in Washington County, and like the Norfolk solar farm, shares sold out before the Washington County one came on line.

OPPD is pursuing Nebraska’s first utility-scale solar farm in Saunders County. The 81-megawatt solar project near Yutan would generate enough electricity to power 14,000 homes, and construction is expected to start next spring, said Jodi Baker, spokeswoman for OPPD.

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Read More: Norfolk solar project largest in state, relies on community input | Nebraska News

2022-06-24 15:00:00

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