BEATRICE – The Gage County Board Wednesday conducted an hour-long public hearing on proposed solar energy regulations, recently sent to the supervisors by the Gage County Planning Commission.  The proposed regulations, if approved, would cover four classes of solar installations….smaller residential projects, and three classes of commercial operations.

Norris Public Power District  is working with an Arkansas-based firm, Today’s Power Inc., to establish six solar installations in the district’s service area…..two in Gage County. One site is north of the Homestead National Historical Park and the other would be near Diller.  Director of Engineering Jerry Enns says Norris would draw a portion of its power from those installations, through a long-term contract locking in low, consistent rates.

"It would go out on Norris' distribution lines to feed people in the area. One of the criteria is that this energy doesn't flow onto the transmission system and out of state in Nebraska. Norris wanted to keep these units below one megawatt because we have some financial advantage if we keep them below the one megawatt level. Each of these would be 999 KW."

That would put the installations in the class-2 category under proposed county regulations, the smallest commercial level.

"They are single axis tracking units, so they turn with the sun. It's very important for them to absorb solar energy...they don't try to reflect it. They are anti-glare glass...they're anti-glare units, because that's been a concern for some people. In relation to the Homestead, this array northwest of's over a mile away from the's over a hill."

Enns says the arrays would be in fenced-in areas, leasing land from local property owners. Homestead National Historical Park officials are lobbying for a four-season view-shed study on commercial applications, to protect the park.  Safety concerns brought before the county board included damage to solar panels and the danger of chemicals they contain… fire suppression and training that local fire units may need.

Rural Dewitt resident Deb Kai works for Nebraska Emergency Management…and wants to ensure fire units have the proper training for dealing with any fires associated with solar installations.  "I wanted to see in these regulations a provision that the companies that are installing these solar panels, would have training funds available for all the fire departments...because of the hazardous've got unknown effects of what these fires would cause."

Jeff Hays owns property near Diller and is working with Norris and TCI on leasing his land for a solar installation. He’s also a Beatrice Fire and Rescue paramedic, firefighter, a Hazmat team member and a Diller Fire volunteer. His home would be slightly more than a quarter mile from the solar panel location.

"Just in the time that you've started the public meeting here...I guarantee you if you'd known what's gone by this highway that is considered a hazardous material, it might scare you. There's a lot of truck traffic through here...there's a lot of things that go through here...and they go through here safely, 99.9 percent of the time...we don't care. It's that one-tenth of a percent time...the tank leaks or catches on fire, or something...that we always hear about. Most things are regulated quite well...most things go on, on a daily basis without a lot of trouble. Could there be trouble with a tornado? Probably. Could a grass fire burn them?..yes. Training with the local fire departments would be good. I'm not going in and putting out a substation fire....I'm not even getting close to it. Will I protect the property around and property that is adjacent to it, so that it doesn't spread to there?....yeah."

The Gage County Board took no action following the hearing. Supervisors Chairman Erich Tiemann says there will be more discussion held before regulations are finalized.