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HU customers may see first gas rate increase since 2000

Hastings Utilities is not recommending rate increases for three utility services, including two that have seen annual increases for several years.

In providing a high-level preview of the Hastings Utilities 2019-20 budget during the Hastings Utility Board meeting Thursday morning, HU Manager Kevin Johnson said staff is not proposing rate increases for electric, water and sewer services. There is, however, a 5 percent natural gas rate increase proposed.

Members of the Hastings City Council will review the HU budget, as well as the city budget, during the Aug. 19 Council work session.

Johnson said there is no electric rate increase proposed because the cost-of-service study that is planned has not yet been undertaken, and because of the potential of the city’s electric service agreement with Breechblock Renewables LLC.

The proposed Breechblock project would be located on the 144.45 acres of city-owned property just west of the Whelan Energy Center property east of Hastings.

The city cannot publicly discuss details of the project due to a nondisclosure agreement.

Mayor Corey Stutte said during a previous Hastings City Council meeting Breechblock is looking to potentially make a $150 million to $200 million investment in the Hastings community leading to “probably over 60 jobs with an average salary over $60,000 to $70,000.”

Johnson said during Thursday’s meeting, should Breechblock move forward, the project would be a top-two HU customer for electric and water service and a top-five sewer customer.

No water and sewer rate increases are proposed because Johnson said those departments have amassed ample monetary reserves and because bids for different aspects of the city’s Aquifer Storage and Restoration Project have come in lower than anticipated.

The city of Hastings is working closely with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, Little Blue NRD and other water quality experts to design the $46 million ASR Project system to reduce the high level of nitrates migrating through the aquifer and into the city wells.

Marty Stange, HU environmental supervisor, provided an ASR project update during Thursday’s meeting.

So far, he said, the ASR Project is working better than anticipated.

Capital expenses budgeted for the ASR project in 2019-20 total $2.3 million.

HU water rates have increased the last seven years.

Sewer rates have increased the last eight years. Those increases were made to help Hastings Utilities comply with environmental regulations.

“So, we have built up sufficient cash for both water and sewer,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the proposed 5 percent gas rate increase would be the city’s first natural gas rate increase since 2000.

“This is to cover the deficiencies over and above what we have for operating and capital expenditures,” he said. “In our revenue projections we have about $8.5 million in revenue but $5.5 million is gas purchases.”

Those gas purchases are a straight flow-through with no additional charges for customers, Johnson said.

Distribution, transmission, administrative and general expenses, plus capital replacement costs have exceeded the remaining $3 million revenue.

This has been the case since 2012.

Those extra costs would have meant the gas department has operated in a deficit, or would have, if not for credits that have been available.

Johnson said those credits now are exhausted.

“We’re at a point now where the projections looking out, we need to start beefing up our gas rates to cover our costs,” he said.

Using 130 CCF, based on average household monthly gas usage during the winter, a 5 percent rate increase would mean customers pay an extra $3.80 per month — $90.41 to 94.21.

However, Johnson said those projections are based on winter gas consumption. Averaging gas consumption over 12 months, the proposed rate increase would mean customers pay about an extra $1.90 per month.

Also during the meeting, City Finance Director Roger Nash introduced Robin Ginn as the new financial manager for Hastings Utilities; and Derek Zeisler, HU director of marketing and energy supply, introduced Tara Ogren as Hastings Utilities’ new process financial analyst.

Board members also voted 4-0 to proceed with an amendment to its gas supply agreement with Central Plains Energy Project in connection with the reset of the available discount in the Central Plains Energy Project No. 2.


News
Registration for community solar project begins Monday

Hastings Utilities customers looking to participate in the community solar project have the option of purchasing panels, solar shares or a combination of both up to 80 percent of a customer’s annual usage.

Derek Zeisler, HU director of marketing and energy supply, spoke about those options during an informational meeting Thursday evening at the Hastings Public Library.

“For a customer, I think it’s kind of an individual choice,” Zeisler said to his audience of about 30 people.

The options carry a one-time $50 enrollment fee due at the time of application that is refundable as a credit to the account after one year of participation.

Monday is the first day to sign up for the program at the Hastings Utilities administrative office at 1228 N. Denver Ave.

Participants can pay with cash, check or credit card at the time of registration. However, there is a surcharge when using a card.

Several HU employees were on hand Thursday to answer questions and help customers run their individual financial figures to see whether the solar program is right for them.

More information is available about the program at www.cityofhastings.org/solar, including a tool that allows customers to plug in their own budget information.

The Hastings City Council approved earlier this year a $2.38 million bid from GenPro Energy Solutions for a 1.5 megawatt AC solar project with the purchase option.

This first phase of the solar project will include 6,012 panels that tilt with the sun within three arrays northwest of Hastings Municipal Airport.

Jeff Berggren, Nebraska program manager for GenPro Energy Solutions, attended the meeting Thursday. One of the most common questions he gets is whether the panels will withstand hail.

He said the solar panels GenPro Energy Solutions uses have to be able to take a 1-inch ball bearing at 55 mph at a 90-degree angle at the center and corner of the panel.

“I know 1-inch isn’t very big compared to the hail we can get the speed it can travel but the density of that steel is much larger than your average hailstone,” he said.

GenPro has installed about 30,000 panels in Nebraska and South Dakota over the course of 10 years. Berggren said during that time the company lost 10 panels to hail.

“So they can handle it,” he said.

One installed panel is expected to average 48 kilowatt hours a month — 52 kWh in year one, and 45 kWh by year 30 — over the course of the project’s 30-year lifespan.

The one-time cost per purchased panel is $384.

Purchasing panels makes the purchaser eligible for a tax credit.

Customers choosing the solar share option would receive a base energy credit of 2.13 cents per kWh, but would pay a solar energy charge of 3.01 cents per kWh.

Two shares — six panels and 300 kWh — would add $2.63 to a monthly electric bill for 1,000 kWh of consumption for a total of $110.16. A single share — slightly more than 15 percent of the average customer usage — would add $1.32 each month.

For 1,000 kWh, purchasing the installed panel would save $4.72 per month, compared to no solar participation, with the purchase of six panels for $2,304 — $1,612.80 after a 30 percent tax credit.


Kids go mutton busting at Thayer County Fair

DESHLER — Wearing chaps, vests and helmets, kids under 11 walked big and tall Thursday as they climbed up and over the railing before sitting down on their sheep at the Thayer County Fair at the fairgrounds in Deshler.

Parents gave their kids words of encouragement, generally a variation of "hold on tight." 

The kids rodeo of the Thayer County Fair, featuring mutton busting and calf riding, drew about 200 people to the pin set up in the middle of the Thayer County Raceway.

Right next to the track, the fair continued with bingo, a carnival and food. The Thayer County Fair began Thursday and will run through Saturday.

Cowboys and cowgirls under 60 pounds tried to hold on tight to their sheep's wool while kids under 11 held onto a rope tied to the calves. All tried to hold on long enough for an air horn to sound, signalling they held on long enough in the friendly and non-competitive rodeo.

Lagur Webber, 5, and Silas Webber, 7, did mutton busting for the first time. Having not seen it before, they both said they were nervous yet xcited to try. 

People around the pin cheered when kids hung on as well as when they fell off. When someone was stepped on and began to cry, people offered words of encouragement to cheer them up.

Derry Mayfield and his company Mayfield Horse Co. in Seward supplied the sheep, calves and helmets for the event. He said that while it's fun for the kids, it is a chance for them to get exposed to bucking horses and bulls. 

"It'll die without the youth," Mayfield said.

Friday will see the beef show at 8:30 a.m. and poultry show at 1 p.m. for 4-H and FFA. Livestock judging is at 4 p.m. DJ Bridwell opens the evening's concert at 7:30 p.m.and the Eli Young Band headlines Friday. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Saturday sees the hog show at 8:30 in the morning, along with the small and large animal round robins at 1 and 3 p.m..

Saturday will also be dedicated to cars, with a car show from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the city park. Hobby stocks and sports mods will race at 7:30 p.m., around the raceway next to the fairgrounds.