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(Neb)-Community Solar Project Hits Snag  Listen

By: John Axtell Posted at: 09/27/2019 11:41 PM
CHADRON -  Chadron's proposed community solar energy project has hit a major snag, but supporters and the city council aren't giving up yet.

      City Manager Greg Yanker told the council this week that bids from developers came in too high, leading Nebraska Public Power District to recommend not moving forward with the original plan.

      Community solar is a way for residents to purchase solar energy without having to install rooftop panels on their home. Instead, they can subscribers for different amounts of solar energy based on their annual electricity usage. The city would purchase any unsold shares.

    Chadron formed a committee in January of last year to work with NPPD on the feasibility of such a project. The panel recommended this past January putting a 1.5-megawatt solar complex on the old city landfill balefield south of the SWANN community site. That led the council in April to approve a letter of intent for NPPD to go to bid.

      Yanker said all the bids came in "significantly higher" than NPPD's current wholesale cost of $58 per megawatt hour. Yanker told the council he could not recommend going forward because of the risk of too many shares going unclaimed.

     He also said he couldn't give them dollar amounts on the bids, only terms such as "significantly higher", because such data is considered proprietary information whose release could unfairly affect future bids.

     NPPD spokesman Terry Rajewich explained that the bids were much higher than expected because of the chosen site. When the balefield was close, a protective cap of compacted soil was required over the top to prevent rain or snow from reaching the bales.

     Rajewich said the need to keep the cap intact prevents a developer from anchoring solar panels to concrete piers, the usual and cheapest method for such projects, or for using pivoting panels that track the run and improve production by 20% from fixed panels.

     Rajewich also said the location sharply increased the cost of a transmission line from the solar panels to the chosen substation because of the distance and the fact that towers would be needed, in part to cross the railroad tracks.

     Several members of the feasibility committee and the public expressed support for looking for another location, which might require buying private land. City Council member Cheryl Welch, also a member of the committee, urged her colleagues to allow time for a search and not give up yet.

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The full council agreed to give the committee at least until its next meeting to work on possible other locations.

      The longer it takes to find a feasible site, the more difficult it may be to find a developer for the project. That's because federal tax credits for such projects will drop from 30% to 26% on January 1st and to 22% in 2021.


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