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Ogallala, Nebraska Public Power announce 'community solar farm' project

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The city of Ogallala and Nebraska Public Power District are poised to make the Keith County seat NPPD’s seventh retail town with a “community solar farm.”

The Ogallala City Council Dec. 14 approved buying 13.53 acres south of Country View Campgrounds where solar panels will be installed, Interim City Manager Jane Skinner said last week.

The project should allow the city to cut its NPPD power bills and allow Ogallala residents to do likewise by subscribing for shares, said Pat Hanrahan, the district’s general manager for retail services.

Its 1.5-megawatt capacity “would be a very small percentage” of NPPD’s total power generation, “but the impact it will have on the community of Ogallala” will be greater, he said.

Ogallala is one of 79 Nebraska cities and villages where NPPD both sells and delivers electricity. North Platte buys its power from NPPD but distributes it to residents and businesses through city-owned Municipal Light & Water.

Hanrahan said GRNE Solar of Lincoln, which will lease the site and build the solar farm, should start construction this spring and likely will bring it online next summer.

NPPD would buy the solar farm’s output from GRNE and work with the city in allocating shares to interested customers, he added.

The power district, which has announced a goal of generating electricity with “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, launched its community solar program in January 2017.

Venango and Scottsbluff hosted NPPD’s first two pilot projects, with the latter city later adding a second, larger solar farm, Hanrahan said.

A Kearney solar farm — the largest thus far with a 5.7-megawatt capacity — went online in 2018. An Ainsworth farm started operating in November 2020, and ones at York and Norfolk are expected to do likewise this spring.

Hanrahan said each farm makes relatively minuscule contributions to NPPD’s power grid, which gets up to 1,300 megawatts alone from the coal-fired Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland.

But the district’s program allows individual ratepayers to buy and benefit from solar power without having to install their own panels, he said.

And “it’s good for economic development,” Hanrahan added. “It shows a progressiveness in the community as well.”

NPPD spokesman Grant Otten said Ogallala’s city government could buy power generated by the solar farm for about 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour — a full cent less than its current cost.

Individual customers could realize similar savings by subscribing for solar-farm shares and receiving credits on their electric bills, Hanrahan said.

They’d pay a flat subscription fee of $50, which would be reimbursed if they keep their shares at least three years, he said. They could keep their shares if they move within Ogallala.

About 1,900 shares will be available there, with the city first setting aside shares for its own electric bill before the others are opened to Ogallala ratepayers.

One share represents 150 kilowatt hours a month, so a typical homeowner using 1,000 kilowatt hours might want six shares, Hanrahan said.

He expects NPPD will fully subscribe the Ogallala solar farm’s output easily. “Usually, when it’s a credit (on bills) like this, we don’t lack for subscribers.”

Skinner said about 25 Ogallala residents attended a Dec. 8 NPPD open house on how the solar farm would work.

“The people here were very interested in it,” she said. “There’s some communities where the solar power costs more than the retail rate. Ours will be cheaper.”


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