Nebraska is ranked thirteenth in the United States with the greatest energy potential from solar power, according to the sun index developed by the National Renewable Energy Lab. Yet, through Q4 2022, Nebraska was ranked 47th in the country for solar installations, with only 83 MW installed, or enough to power just under 10,000 homes.
While both wind and sun are abundant in Nebraska, electricity rates are not motivation enough for residents to go solar. Nebraskans enjoy the second lowest electric rate in the country—currently 9.84 cents per kWh according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Nebraska obtains nearly half of its electricity needs from coal, 25% from wind, 18% from nuclear, 4% from natural gas and 3% from hydropower—it gets just .30% from the sun, per EIA.
Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. in which all electric utilities are publically owned. The state currently does not have a renewable portfolio standard, but it does have net metering legislation.
In 2009, Nebraska enacted legislation that established interconnection and net metering rules for all of the utilities in the state, requiring them to provide interconnection and net metering for renewables at or below 25 kW. Net Metering is required until the aggregate generating capacity equals 1% of the utility’s average aggregate monthly peak demand for that year. After tha the utility can choose whether to offer more net meting capacity or not. Net excell genration must be credited at the utilityy’s avoided cost rate for that month and carried forward to the next billing period, but any remaining at the end of an annualized period must be paid to the customer.
Community solar, which is a way for community members to purchase solar energy without having to install solar panels on their home or business, is taking shape in Nebraska, with small, mostly kW-scale installations dotting the state. Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) offers the SunWise program, which enables community solar in its territory and includes what is currently the largest solar plant in the state.
An 8.5 MW community solar installation in Norfolk is currently the largest in the state. The system was developed by Sol Systems in partnership with EPC firm GenPro Energy Solutions and real estate development firm Mesner Development. Sol Systems and NPPD entered a 30-year power purchase agreement, providing a fixed cost of energy for NPPD and Norfolk residents for decades.
Aside from being the largest installation in the state, the project has a few more claims to fame. It includes NPPD’s first large-scale battery storage system, capable of storing up to 2 MWh. It’s also a pollinator habitat, was led by an all-woman development team, and provides internships to local college students. The development team comprised of all women sets the project apart not only in Nebraska, but across the whole country, as women currently comprise only 30% of the solar.
The internships are part of a partnership between Sol Systems and Northeast Community College (NECC), which awarded three scholarships to students interested in the school’s Electrical Construction and Control Program. In further partnership with NECC, GenPro established internships for students enrolled in the Electrical Construction and Control Program, providing them with hands-on experience helping to construct the array.
“The project will service this community with clean, renewable energy for decades while creating strong community impact through our scholarship work with NECC,” said Anna Toenjes, senior director of business development at Sol Systems. “In addition, I am personally proud to have been a part of an all-female team at Sol that led the contract negotiations, development and financing of this solar + storage project.”
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