Public Power District working toward solar array installations in southeast Nebraska
BEATRICE – Norris Public Power District is in talks with an Arkansas-based solar energy company, on the potential for a half-dozen medium-sized solar energy installations in the district’s six-county service area.
During a public hearing before the Gage County Planning Commission Tuesday night, a Norris engineering manager said two of six solar panel installations could be in Gage County. Responding to commission questions, Norris Manager of Engineering, Jerry Ensz, of Holmesville…said Norris sent out a request to solar vendors for one-megawatt or less, operations.
"They sit on seven to ten acre properties...we have six of them we've identified through the six counties that Norris Public Power serves. The lease agreement is between Norris Public Power District and the landowner. Today's Power Inc., is the solar entity that would install and own...all Norris Public Power would do is buy the energy by the kilowatt-hours produced by the solar arrays. We wanted to do this to allow us to lock in a kilowatt-hour rate that we can use over the next 35 years....a set rate....so there's no increase. We thought that was important for our Norris customers."
It was estimated that each of the installations could serve between 125 and 200 homes. Norris has looked at similar operations of the company being installed in Kansas. The private company, unlike a public power district, is eligible for solar energy production tax credits. Matt Irving, Vice President of Operations and Design with Today’s Power, Inc., of Arkansas…said the solar facilities don’t require a lot of maintenance.
"We've got a monitoring and operations center that is based in Little Rock. So we've got data acquisition systems...that's just a fancy way of saying we monitor it through the internet. Each one of these one-megawatt systems have a total of eight inverters...and that's really the brains of the whole operation."
Irving says his company has incentive to keep the operation running, through an agreement to supply electricity to Norris. "We've got a heavy presence in Kansas, and now we're going to do in 2023 in the Nebraska area, about eight projects....so, we'll have a heavy presence in Nebraska, as well. We do the O-and-M in-house....we don't sub it out to a third party. We put a very skilled personnel out there, one for safety...and that we maintain the systems, properly."
As for the area under the solar arrays, Irving says the company uses seeding of native vegetation, that grow no more than a foot high. Solar panels are generally about five feet off the ground, and no higher than eight feet. Each site is secured with fences and security cameras.
"Our history has always been, when we install a system in an area, we like to meet with the first responders and walk through it. With them understanding and us protecting their safety....is key. Here's how this thing works....here's your touch points, here's your don't touch points. Maintain the perimeter...let it go....we got insurance.....be safe."
Irving says any solar panels damaged by storms such as hail, are removed and recycled. He says the company does environmental assessments and cultural surveys on each installation site. He says for a typical site, the company’s goal is to disturb less than an acre of ground.
Today’s Power Inc. a subsidiary of Arkansas Cooperative, Inc., sells, installs, finances and leases solar facilities to assist cooperatives and other companies in developing renewable energy resources.