Wilcox solar

RUSS WILCOX stands on the roof of a building on Fourth Street and Norfolk Avenue, now home to a 25-kilowatt solar array.

Downtown Norfolk has seen new improvements in recent years, but Russ Wilcox of Real Estate Solutions Team saw the opportunity to be the first to implement a new idea.

So now, Wilcox’s properties along the 400 block of Norfolk Avenue are now home to an array of solar panels. There about 220 total panels that altogether can generate up to 25 kilowatts sitting three stories above Norfolk.

The financial impact isn’t exactly clear yet, Wilcox said, as the panels were installed in December.

“There certainly is a financial incentive for doing this, but we only have projections to go off of right now,” he said.

The impact isn’t clear, not only because of how new the panels are, but because they were installed during the darkest months of the year. Naturally, solar panels need sunlight to function, so they have not unlocked their full potential.

Wilcox said there’s no viable battery system that can store the power generated during the day for later use.

Because of this, most of the power is used by commercial customers who use the power during daytime business hours, while very little is ultimately used by residential tenants, as they use the most power in the evening when the panels aren’t in use.

Also because there is no battery system, any excess power generated and not used by tenants is sold to NPPD. That also factors into the size of the array; 25 kilowatts is the maximum amount of power a system can generate, and the public power districts are required to purchase the excess power.

Wilcox said the income from selling to the power companies isn’t enough to retire with, but it provides a small boost.

Another major reason why Wilcox said he decided on a solar array is because of the roofs themselves.

Flat roofs are typically not highly desirable, Wilcox said, because they aren’t very aesthetically pleasing and because they are subject to damage from weather over the years.

But about a year ago, Wilcox said one of his partners recognized that the flat design would be perfect for a solar array that can be installed with relative ease, take up space that is otherwise unused and have direct access to the sun.

The panels themselves are surprisingly light, Wilcox said. Despite their size at roughly 3 by 5 feet, they actually need to be weighted down to stay in place. They’re also durable, as they can survive rain, snow and hail for decades.

Wilcox said he felt it was a good time to invest in solar. Not only can he save and make some money, there are ways such as tax credits and grants that can be used to help offset the cost.

“Those opportunities are available now, but I don’t think that’s always going to be there,” Wilcox said.

To install the panels, Wilcox contracted Renewable Solar LLC, which is based in rural Monroe in Platte County. Renewable Solar was founded in 2009 by AJ Kush.

Kush said Norfolk is among the last major cities in Nebraska to embrace the solar industry after the 2009 net metering law, LB 436, was passed.

But that will soon change as Norfolk will soon be home to one of the largest solar arrays in the state, an 8.5 megawatt facility operated by NPPD.

The impact of solar is still relatively small. Only 1.5% of power in the United States is generated by solar, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and that percentage is even smaller in Nebraska, with less than 1% of power in Nebraska generated by solar, but it is growing, with a 77% increase in solar power in 2018, the most recent year data was available.

The benefits and potential of the new array were enough for Wilcox to want to invest.

“We wanted to offer something different for our tenants and bring something different downtown,” Wilcox said. “It’s a source of income and a way to help the environment.”

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