A bright summer sun shone down on 35 acres of rural Washington County as officials from OPPD, NextEra Energy Resources and AUI Partners toured the utility’s newly built community solar field.
More than 17,500 panels are up and work continues on the site, the first community solar project for OPPD. The project is on track to be completed in the late fall.
Utility officials are excited to begin learning what the addition of solar power will mean for OPPD.
“It’s great to see the site come together and looking like a solar field instead of a flooded field,” said Mary Fisher, vice president of Energy Production & Nuclear Decommissioning at OPPD. “This is really rewarding for our customer-owners. We wanted to provide this for them; they were looking for an environmentally friendly way to produce electricity in which the community may participate. This creates a community involvement in our work to a higher degree than we’ve had historically.”
Widespread flooding this spring slowed construction and caused damage across the OPPD service territory. Due to the area’s high water table, design changes included moving the wiring from a trenching system to an elevated system. Elevated wiring is more common for solar panels, especially in areas that can get lots of moisture.
The remaining construction will largely be centered around quality assurance work and solar panel positioning.
Fisher complimented partner NextEra on the project and for hosting events like the recent facility tour.
“We look forward to having this solar field up and producing electricity,” she said. “It will be important for us to see the productivity and what that looks like throughout the year, especially stormy days and into the winter months. This will help us understand how solar will work here in Nebraska.”
When announced to the public in the spring, the 8,000-plus shares for the community solar program sold out quickly. There is now a waiting list for shares. Each share represents 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. Participants will be assessed a monthly solar charge based on the number of shares they subscribe to once the solar facility is generating energy.
Courtney Kennedy, manager of OPPD’s Alternative Energy Program, said along with providing participating customers with solar energy, the solar field will be a valuable learning tool for the utility.
“This project is important for us as we look to the future and how we will meet the utility’s future load needs,” Kennedy said. “The community solar project will help us better understand the solar technology and what potential projects may look like.”
The 5-megawatt solar energy facility sits in a scenic area of Washington County tucked in near rolling hills and trees. OPPD and NextEra Energy Resources have a 20-year power purchase agreement for the energy generated at the facility.
The solar facility will be the latest renewable energy generation source for OPPD. The utility will move toward 40% of retail sales supplied by renewable energy once Sholes Wind Energy Center comes online later in 2019.
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