Solar energy facility

Kearney's solar energy facility (pictured) is part of NPPD's Community Solar Program, SunWise℠.

NORFOLK — The sun is shining on the City of Norfolk as it will be the latest Nebraska municipality to become part of Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) SunWise Community Solar program.

There will be an added aspect of the project for NPPD with the installation of a battery energy storage system (BESS) that will be tied to the solar array as a demonstration project.

NPPD plans to enter into a 30-year agreement with N Solar for an 8.5 megawatt solar unit to be constructed on land at the city’s well field. The expectation is installation of the solar panels will begin in 2021 with operations beginning by the end of 2021.

“We are pleased to be adding Norfolk to our Community Solar program,” said Tim Arlt, NPPD vice president and general manager-retail. “The interest in solar energy continues to grow and we have interest from other NPPD retail communities and we anticipate adding more units in the future.”

Norfolk is the fourth Nebraska community to be part of the program that currently includes Venango, Scottsbluff (two units) and Kearney.

“We’re anxious to move forward on this first-of-its-kind project in Nebraska,” said Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning. “Building the largest community solar project in the state, and the first tied to a battery storage system, further positions Norfolk to be a leader in clean, cost-competitive renewable energy that will boost and support the local economy.”

In partnership with the city, NPPD will host an open house for Norfolk customers to learn about the SunWise Community Solar program that currently operates in three locations, answer questions, and work with customers interested in purchasing solar energy.

N Solar, a three-company partnership that includes Mesner Development, Gen Pro Energy Solutions and Sol Systems, will have a lease agreement with the City of Norfolk for the land where the solar panels will be installed.

Eventually the well field site will have over 25,000 solar panels in place to generate electricity from the sun. Collectively, the three N Solar companies have been involved in a combined 20 solar projects across Nebraska, including three of the four NPPD SunWise Community Solar projects.

“Norfolk is a wonderful community and we are grateful for the opportunity to build on our relationship with NPPD through this project,” said Cliff Mesner of Mesner Development Company. “Having delivered their first community solar project, we are now excited to help bring the first energy storage installation to NPPD’s growing portfolio.”

The BESS will be charged through generation provided by the solar unit and can be discharged daily to accomplish several goals. The BESS unit will store approximately the amount of electricity that a small home would use over the course of two months.

NPPD, with support from the City of Norfolk, received a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) in the amount of $490,000 over two years for the BESS project. Norfolk committed to participate in the funding request as a grant partner and is providing the real estate for the project site, weekly inspections and guided public tours.

“Battery energy storage is a versatile resource,” said Ron Rose, NPPD Renewable Energy consultant. “It has the ability to adapt technologies, applications, and business models to utility needs.”

This first of its kind in Nebraska demonstration project is a one-megawatt (MW), two megawatt hour (MWh)) utility scale, proven technology. The BESS will be charged and discharged daily to accomplish many separate goals for NPPD such as demand management, frequency regulation, voltage support, and smoothing and shifting variable renewable energy generation.

“With the knowledge gained from this project, it will be reproducible for other Nebraska electrical utilities, assuming future price reductions and increasing battery performance,” Rose said.

With the BESS connected to a variable non-dispatchable renewable energy source such as wind or solar, the renewable generation now becomes dispatchable and will reduce fossil fuel generation in the future. This project was not economical for NPPD to fund in total but became possible with the Nebraska Environmental Trust grant sharing the battery costs.

NPPD’s SunWise Community Solar Program has an existing facility in Kearney that has been in operation for nearly two years, generating 5.7 megawatts of energy through photovoltaic panels. In the past year a 4.375 megawatt unit was installed in Scottsbluff. Smaller solar arrays in the program are located in Scottsbluff (128 kilowatts) and Venango (98 kilowatts).

N-Solar is a three-company partnership designed to provide every Nebraska community with the opportunity for clean energy integrated with local public power districts and municipal utilities. N Solar comprises Nebraska’s Mesner Development in partnership with GenPro Energy Solutions in site development and construction, and Sol Systems in financing, ownership and power purchase agreements.

To date, this team has developed, constructed and financed more than 19 megawatts of solar in Nebraska.

In other news

Due to a positive COVID-19 test for a Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District staff member, the Norfolk conference call site for the NED, Inc. and NENEDD meetings scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28, will be closed.

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