After a year of studying the issue, the Chadron City Council could decide soon if the city should take the next step to seriously consider a community solar project.
Council members were given an update and recommendation from the committee researching the possibility Monday. Nebraska Public Power District alerted Chadron to the opportunity for a community solar project in October 2017, and because there seemed to be a positive response to the idea, a committee was formed to study the feasibility of such a project in January last year.
The committee’s recommendation is to sign a letter of intent directing NPPD to request proposals from developers, provided the city does not have to pay for any upfront costs of the development and if NPPD’s community outreach indicates a substantial interest in it.
Chadron qualifies for a 1.15 megawatt solar project, and all NPPD customers within the city limits would be eligible to purchase shares – up to 100 percent of their electrical usage could be generated from solar energy. Each share would be equal to 150 kilowatt hours. The city would be required to purchase any shares that do not sell for its own use.
A solar farm of that size would require roughly five acres, and the committee identified two parcels of city-owned land that would be available. The preferred location would be somewhere on the city’s nearly 68 acres of decommissioned landfill south of SWANN, which has limited use for future development. The second site is a vacant lot on East Niobrara Street, though additional land would need to be acquired, as that site is only 3.5 acres.
According to Terry Rajewich of NPPD, the next step for the city is to sign a letter of intent so the utility can proceed with seeking proposals from developers. Once those have been received, an analysis will be conducted, a developer selected and a price point for the project determined. Only after all those steps have been completed will the city need to make a final decision on whether or not to commit to the project. Once the city enters a solar power agreement, it is obligated to see the project through to completion.
The final size of the project plays a major role in determining the price per kilowatt of the solar energy; typically larger solar farms offer lower prices than smaller farms, but the final price per share for customers could be higher or lower than current rates.
“I like the idea of solar, but I don’t like the risk to the city,” said Vice Mayor Keith Crofutt, citing concerns that shares may not sell, obligating the city to purchase the excess. “That fiscal risk is really scary.”
Shares in Scottbluff’s initial array – a smaller project – sold out before construction was complete, Rajewich said, though Kearney’s larger solar farm did require the city to purchase some of the shares.
Council member Cheryl Welch noted that she helped contact residents about interest in a community solar project more than a year ago and said interest was high. Residents see the value in decreasing their carbon footprint, even if it comes at a slightly higher cost, she said.
“We’re investigating… I think it’s an important step.”
Monday’s report was a discussion item on the council’s agenda, with the item slated to appear on a future agenda for a vote on whether or not to sign a letter of intent.