Keith County News Article —
For as tiny as it may be, the village of Venango has helped pull the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) into a whole new energy sector.
The forward-thinking community in Perkins County is currently in the process of installing a solar-panel station just outside of town that will help supply power to multiple energy users throughout the village. The upgrade represents a first for both the village and NPPD as far as the use of solar energy is concerned, although NPPD also has been working with some other communities simultaneously.
“We’re trying to move forward to do things that are going to improve the town for the people. We think this is the right move to make,” Venango Board Chairwoman Diana Maupin said.
Although the solar panels have been installed, there are still several steps to go through before the system will be up and running. According to NPPD communications representative Brenda Sanne, they hope to have the system online by the beginning of March.
Maupin said, following the initial idea, the village board held a conference call with NPPD. The board asked questions. The community members asked questions. Eventually, the plan began to progress toward a reality. Rather than excitement or apprehension, Maupin said there initially was a sense of curiosity from members throughout the community.
It has not, however, been a swift process. There was a period of about several years between when the idea was initially brought forward and the project’s current status. Part of the reason for that was because the NPPD had never dealt with such a project before.
Venango native and former Ogallala attorney Dick Dudden was the one to first bring the idea of using solar energy to the village board.
“Our theory was: “If we get this going, it may be good for Nebraska. It’ll show other towns and cities that it can be done, and until somebody does it first, it’s never going to happen,” Dudden said.
He’d also installed a solar-energy system at his home. By doing so, he hoped to encourage the use of the renewable energy source. Dudden said although no one else installed similar home systems, having the smaller scale system on his own home gave the community enough knowledge about the concept to be willing to entertain the idea of having it on the larger scale once that prospect became a plausible reality for the village.
“I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s clean energy,” Dudden said. “I’m very proud of the village of Venango and the board and the citizens. They had to have a lot of faith because they didn’t know how much it was going to cost, they didn’t know who was going to do it; they didn’t know if they were going to have to pay for the system. There were a lot of unknowns when this thing started.”
In total, the Venango solar project has 400 solar panels, comprising a 100-kilowatt system. Although it will depend on how much the system is producing at any given time. Sanne estimated the project could supply energy to about 6.5 percent of the demand at Venango.
The energy generated from solar power will go toward the homes and businesses in the community that have purchased solar shares from NPPD. Initially, the power company offered 108 shares.
Although NPPD has been deeply involved in the project at Venango, the power company doesn’t actually own the solar infrastructure.According to Dudden, the actual system is owned by Mesner and Mesner of Central City. NPPD purchases the solar energy from that company and, in turn, sells it to the end users in Venango.
Dudden said Roger Bacon of Panhandle Solar was initially involved in the concept of the community solar project. The project was turned over to Mesner and Mesner once NPPD agreed to come on board, Dudden said.
In spite of its advantages, the solar energy will cost slightly more for the share-holding clients at Venango for the time being. According to Sanne, those who have solar shares at Venango will have to pay $2.17 more per month per share since solar energy is still more expensive for NPPD than its traditional ways of supplying power.
“It’s been a learning curve for both the community and NPPD to find the right model we could use that would work for all the parties,” Sanne said.
The addition of solar energy will add to NPPD’s mix bag of the energy sources from which it draws. During 2015, the power company gained 33.8 percent of its power from nuclear power, 48.4 percent from coal, 5.9 percent from hydropower, 6.2 percent from wind power, 1 percent from gas/oil, and 4.7 percent from the energy market.
Along with Venango, Scottsbluff is one of the two solar-energy pilot projects NPPD has undertaken. According to NPPD Economic Development Consultant Brian Vasa, through NPPD approached Scottsbluff about the possibility of the pilot project after the power company already had begun the process with Venango. Because of that, the Perkins County village was NPPD’s first community to undertake this kind of solar-energy project.
Like Ogallala, NPPD provides energy to Venango and Scottsbluff at retail rather than wholesale. Being one of NPPD’s retail communities essentially means, that NPPD sells power directly to the end-users in the community rather than selling the power to the city to distribute.
In addition to Venango and Scottsbluff, the city of Kearny also is looking into the possibility of incorporating solar energy. That project, however, is not quite as far along in development as the first two.
It is not just the power company’s retail customers who have begun benefiting from solar energy. The city of Lexington, which is one of NPPD’s wholesale communities, also has begun developing a solar project.
“We’ve worked with both our retail and wholesale communities to help enable this renewable energy development at the local level,” Sanne said.