Chadron could become the next community in the state to implement a community solar program if it can generate enough interest and locate land for the project that fits within its budgetary constraints.
The council discussed the idea with Terry Rajewich of the Nebraska Public Power District Monday. A community solar program is a large solar facility that’s connected to a distribution line, allowing multiple customers in the community to purchase shares in the solar power. For those who are interested in solar power, it has the advantage of eliminating the up-front capital investment required for individual solar units, Rajewich said. It also makes it available to those whose properties don’t lend themselves to solar power.
Green energy is becoming more important in many sectors, Rajewich noted.
“We have customers that say they want “X” percent of their energy in renewables,” she said, citing Pine Ridge Hospital as an example. Community solar programs offer a three to seven-year return on their investment, and the facilities typically last 20-25 years.
Cities with community solar programs through NPPD offer customers the chance to purchase shares of solar power in 150-kilowatt blocks. Rajewich presented an example of a 1,000-kilowatt customer’s bill Monday using a seven-cent solar energy charge and 5.8-cent avoided cost credit per kilowatt. The customer’s bill reflected an additional $8 cost to own the shares of the community solar project. Should NPPD’s avoided cost rise, however, the customer’s credit would increase, therefore decreasing the overall bill.
Chadron could start with a solar project as low as 200 kilowatts but cannot build one larger than 1.15 megawatts. Scottsbluff’s 128-kilowatt solar project generates enough power for about 33 homes, Rajewich noted. Kearney’s nearly six-megawatts set to come online next year could power half of Chadron.
A group of interested individuals turned out for Monday’s meeting, after having worked to gauge interest in the community over the last several weeks. More than 150 homes are included on a list presented to NPPD as potential community solar customers.
“That is phenomenal,” Rajewich said, who later added that she handles more inquiries about solar energy from Chadron than anywhere else in her service area.
“The majority of people responded very positively,” said Cheryl Welch, who was among those working to determine the level of interest in the community. “I think the interest is profound in finding more sustainable energy.”
Those she visited with were well aware that it could add a few dollars to their bill each month, but were more interested in reducing their carbon footprint.
“Personally, I think it would be a very progressive step for our community to take,” Welch continued, adding that it shows those considering relocating here that the city has a mindset of planning for the future.
Roger Wess, who would be ineligible to take part in the community solar project because he owns his own 12-watt solar system, strongly encouraged the city to explore the option.
“For each solar panel we put in we are reducing the carbon footprint for our kids and grandkids,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.”
The council took no action on the matter Monday, but expressed interest in at least exploring the idea, starting first with determining where any such project might be sited and if the purchase of land, if needed, was workable within the budget.