ATKINSON — There’s no substitute for being outdoors on a sunny day to get a boost of energy.

That’s not only true for living things, but machines as well — as evidenced by society’s growing use of solar energy.

On Thursday, Jan. 10, the City of Atkinson will celebrate the conversion of its waste water plant to operate entirely on solar energy.

Erika Young, marketing and external affairs manager for GenPro Energy Solutions, said the City of Atkinson wanted a tracked system that could provide enough energy to offset the energy consumption of its water treatment plant.

GenPro Energy Solutions of Piedmont, S.D., was the project developer.

Through NPPD’s Buy-Sell Solar Rider, Atkinson will be able to create long-term cash flow for the city through the production of solar energy, Young said.

Molly Brown, GenPro Energy Solutions vice president of energy production, said the waster water plant itself did not require any modifications to convert it to solar.

“We were even able to use the existing transformer,” Brown said. “There was some equipment that was added to feed the energy into the treatment plant and to keep the utility's equipment and linemen safe in case of a power outage.”

The site of the plant, which was built new in 2014, was formerly used by Atkinson for fill — a place where soil, trees and concrete were brought then covered with dirt.

Because of the nature of the site, solar project construction initially saw particular challenges. Some debris was buried up to 30 feet — three times the norm needed for proper installation of the foundation.

Brown said one of the biggest challenges was the makeup of the rubble pile that is the site of the solar array.

“In order to be able to do a tracker system we had to use specialty ground screws to create enough friction to meed wind and snow engineering requirements,” Brown said. “We even found a cabbage patch doll underground while we were installing the underground wires.”

GenPro has also completed solar installations in Lexington, Aurora, Scottsbluff, Fremont, Grand Island, Central City, Gothenburg, Holdrege and Schuyler. It also has an office in Central City that services these locations.

“Municipal and community solar has certainly grown in popularity because it is a more environmentally friendly way to produce energy,” Brown said. “We use pile driven systems that do not leave a lot of concrete in the ground and we're able to plant native seeds and grasses under the arrays. We can also use it as a learning tool and actively participate in groups like Nebraskans for Solar that continue to educate the public about the benefits of solar energy.”

In other news

Weather permitting, work will begin next week on Highway 75 and Highway 77 between Winnebago and Homer, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.