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Solar project planned for southwest Clay County

CLAY CENTER — A 305-megawatt solar project proposed for southwestern Clay County is anticipated to generate enough energy to power as many as 57,000 homes per year.

Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Virginia, is proposing the Big Allis Solar Project. Dylan Ikkala, Apex development manager; and Brenna Gunderson, Apex director of development, attended the Clay County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to discuss the project and answer questions.

About 3,000 acres would be leased for the project with panels located on about 2,100 acres of that expanse. The proposed project area is west of Deweese along the Clay/Nuckolls county line.

The location was selected because of its proximity to a Nebraska Public Power District transmission line. It is also close to the area Apex had identified for a previous wind energy project that Apex did not carry to fruition due to opposition from local residents.

Ikkala said installation of the panels most likely would occur in 2021 or 2022 following an interconnection study process that takes about two years.

The project lifespan would be 40 years with the lease tied to the land.

The panels would track the sun from east to west.

Ikkala pointed out that while 305 megawatts is a large project, it is only a small portion of the capacity through 22 solar projects planned across Nebraska.

There are 3.2 gigawatts’ worth of solar projects planned in Nebraska for the next five years.

Ikkala said renewable energy development in Nebraska was largely made possible by the passage of LB824 in 2016.

The bill was meant to attract private renewable energy development to Nebraska by streamlining and updating regulations.

One of LB824’s biggest attributes, Ikkala said, is the nameplate capacity tax, which must be paid by the owner of the renewable energy project at a rate of $3,518 per megawatt per year.

For the Big Allis project, that would equal $1,072,990 paid each year, with those funds going first to the Nebraska Department of Revenue and then to the host county with the majority of the funds going to local school districts.

“There is a significant benefit not only to the farmers that host the facility but also to the county that has the facility within their control,” he said.

Clay County currently has no solar ordinance.

Ikkala said Apex could assist with that.

“We have plenty of examples to provide you guys if that’s something you would be interested in,” he said. “We’ve helped guide other counties around the country with their solar ordinance. It gives the county an opportunity to see what they feel strongly about and what protections they would like to see, but also gives us an opportunity to have guidelines in how to develop this project appropriately, so it stays within what the county’s going to require: setbacks, a decommissioning plan; whatever else you guys value and how you want to protect your county.”

Ikkala spoke for about the project for 15 minutes before fielding questions for about 45 minutes from the supervisors, who took the opportunity to exercise due diligence.

“We owe it to our farmers to make sure we investigate it really well from their side, but also for all the rest of our taxpayers,” Supervisor Dick Shaw of Fairfield said to Ikkala.

Shaw referred to the old U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot, which took 36,000 acres of farm ground off the tax rolls in Clay County during World War II, with the ground never returning to private ownership.

He asked Ikkala how long it would be before Apex moved forward with the project.

Ikkala said Apex’s goal is to have a “pretty confident” understanding of how the county and landowners feel by early 2020 because of a large deposit Apex must pay in March as part of the interconnection study process.

“Without the confidence in the community and landowners’ support, that’s probably not a deposit we would be willing to pay,” he said.

Shaw said he was comfortable with that amount of time.

“We want to be here,” Ikkala said. “We chose this area for a reason. We would like to have the county’s support.”

He said however those 3,000 acres currently are classified is how they would remain.

The landowner receives $500-$1,000 per year per acre for participation, with those payments coming from the gross revenue of the project.

Apex develops the project and then would sell it to the owner. The lease agreement stays with the project, and the owner has to abide by it.

The project owner would receive any available investment tax credit.

Several participating landowners were in the audience. The supervisors asked for their feedback.

“I can’t think of any cons,” Ken Pavelka said. “I can think of the pros. It isn’t very often a farmer gets the opportunity to diversify and have a steady, stable income for that long. Likewise, the county having that steady, stable income for that long, with all the road problems we’ve had, I’m sure the county could use some extra money there.”

Marshals ready to represent branches in parade

Nebraskans representing the five U.S. armed forces service branches will serve as grand marshals at the Hastings Veterans Recognition Parade at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Marshals representing their respective U.S. military branches in this year’s parade are: Hastings residents Dale F. Musgrave, Army; Willis “Gale” Bullard, Air Force; Marcus Fitzgerald; Marines; Darrell E. Moyer, Navy; and Omaha resident Randy Evans, Coast Guard.

The parade, hosted by Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and the Masonic Center, includes participation by area businesses and veterans and is expected to draw hundreds of patriotic locals in recognition of those who answered the call to protect and defend the nation through their service.

Parade entrants may simply show up the day of the event to register at the Masonic Center, 411 N. Hastings Ave., from 8:30-9:30 a.m. There is no charge to participate in the parade, and veterans are invited to march or drive along the parade route and be recognized.

Marshals were chosen by parade committee officials from a pool of applications of honorably discharged veterans submitted by family members and friends throughout the year.

Four of the five representatives selected (Evans was unable to attend) were presented with customized plaques during a recognition dinner Oct. 23 at the Masonic Center. Those in attendance all said they were humbled by the honor to represent their respective branches.

“It’s an absolute honor,” said Fitzgerald, who attained the rank of corporal and received more than a dozen awards, ribbons and citations during his time served from 2001-08. “Even after this long to be recognized for my service is a real big honor to me. I feel very humbled. I feel like there are other veterans who probably deserve it more than I do from the Vietnam and Korean War eras, but I am proud to represent the Marine Corps here tonight.

“Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a Marine. To be honest, it was the uniform at first. I felt like the Marine Corps was the elite branch, and I really wanted to become a Marine, even early on in high school.”

Having enlisted prior to the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly found himself deployed overseas in wartime duty.

And while he felt prepared to carry out his duties, the reality that he would be facing life-and-death combat situations took some getting used to, he said.

“My trip to Iraq and the battle of Fallujah was definitely the highlight of my career that stands out,” he said. “It was intense. Every day you just didn’t know if that was going to be your last day. I’m honored I was able to do it.

“You almost come to be OK with it. As you’re doing your day-to-day thing it becomes normal and you just kind of accept the fact that an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) could go off and you could die, or you could get shot by a sniper. I’m glad I made it out alive: Some weren’t as fortunate. That helps me go on living life the best I can to honor the ones who didn’t make it back home.”

Musgrave, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, served as a door gunner for the Army in Vietnam from 1962-64. His swift actions taken to remove explosive warheads during a helicopter mission saved the helicopter and crew.

He said it was the camaraderie between himself and his fellow soldiers that enabled him to persevere during his most dangerous combat missions.

“You had to work together,” he said. “I worked with three guys who were lifers every time I flew on a chopper, and it teaches you a lot.”

He said it is flattering to be honored by the community for his service in battle, though he considers himself but one of many who risked all for a grateful nation.

“I never expected anything like this,” he said of his Grand Marshal designation. “I think it’s great.”

Moyer split his time in the U.S. Navy stationed in Hawaii and Australia from 1946-49. He credits his father for encouraging him to enlist — a decision he said he never regretted.

“I didn’t like school, and Dad said, ‘Why don’t you get out and do something?’” he said. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll go in the Navy.’ So they signed me up and I went.

“Every young kid should have that experience. You don’t get by with anything. You try acting up and you end up in the brigs, treading water! I learned not to get into trouble.”

While serving on the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La, he helped blow up land mines with the ship’s deck guns.

“I didn’t think I’d live this long,” the 91-year-old said. “I was on a big aircraft carrier and we had 3,000 men on it. We were about 100 miles away from ships that were blowing up. It was loud.”

Ascending to the rank of fireman first class, he assumed boilerman duties on the ship and was honorably discharged in 1948.

Bullard served 28 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel in 1993. A Gulf War veteran, he served as nurse anesthetist and earned multiple awards and ribbons, including two Bronze Stars.

“I feel great about it,” he said about his selection as grand marshal. “I feel great about my military experience. I went in as a certified nurse anesthetist and served from 1967 to 1993.

“I was a full colonel over there in the Gulf War, so I was the ranking guy in our unit. I loved it.”

Bullard’s assignments included stints in multiple states, including North Dakota, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and abroad in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

A member of American Legion Post No. 0011 in Hastings, his post-retirement years have included multiple assignments at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, including service with the parish council, Knights of Columbus, choir, and as lector.

Evans served in the Coast Guard from 1972-76, continuing in the reserves through 1999. His duties included weather patrol 500 miles south of Greenland, launching balloons to monitor air speed in upper atmospheres. He also was on iceberg patrol, a unit launched shortly after the Titanic’s ill-fated collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

As a Coast Guard reservist, he boarded ships in search of illegal drugs. Among his many stops performing Coast Guard-related duties was Governor’s Island in New York, which forever changed his once-jaded opinion of the Big Apple.

He now teaches boat safety classes and performs safety checks on boats to ensure they meet state and federal safety requirements.

He is thrilled to be able to bring attention to the Coast Guard through his role as grand marshal in this year’s parade.

“A lot of people say, ‘Coast Guard, what’s the Coast Guard?’” he said. “This gives good exposure to it.

“I joined the Coast Guard because when I came out of high school, I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do with my life. The more I found out about it, the more I enjoyed it. There are so many jobs available in the Coast Guard that can help you get pointed in the right direction.”

Frustration rises amid another round of California blackouts

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — With no electricity for the fourth straight day Tuesday, chef and caterer Jane Sykes realized she would have to throw out $1,000 worth of food, including trays of brownies, cupcakes and puff pastry.

Ringo H.W. Chiu 

A helicopter drops water as a wildfire called the Getty Fire burns on Kenter Canyon in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

And she had little hope of getting a good night’s sleep — there was no way to run the machine she relies on to counter her apnea.

“I don’t think PG&E really thought this through,” she lamented.

Frustration and anger mounted across Northern California on Tuesday as the state’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, began another round of widespread blackouts aimed at preventing its electrical equipment from sparking wildfires in high winds.

Noah Berger 

Kincade Fire evacuee Larisa Figueroa gets a gift trailer from Gilbert Lemus while camped in a Rohnert Park, Calif., parking lot on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019.

Millions of people have been without power for days as fire crews race to contain two major wind-whipped blazes that have destroyed dozens of homes at both ends of the state: in Sonoma County wine country and in the hills of Los Angeles.

Across Northern California, people worried about charging cellphones, finding gasoline and cash, keeping their food from spoiling and staying warm. Some ended up at centers set up by PG&E where people could go to power their electronics and get free water, snacks, flashlights and solar lanterns.

Noah Berger 

Kincade Fire evacuee Darrin Dailey cleans his recreational vehicle while camped in a Rohnert Park, Calif., parking lot on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. Strong winds predicted to begin Tuesday afternoon threaten to spread the blaze which has already destroyed 124 structures and scorched more than 75,000 acres according to Cal Fire.

“There’s a hidden cost,” Sykes said. “Absolutely public safety above all else, but there’s a big financial loss for my profession, having to throw away a lot of hard work.”

PG&E said Tuesday’s blackouts — the third round in a week — would affect about 1.5 million people in 29 counties, including 1 million still without power from a shut-off over the weekend.

The outages have made people like Linda Waldron, a mother of two who lives north of San Francisco in San Rafael, realize the things we take for granted.

She discovered she was low on gas and began to panic as she drove around looking for an open gas station. She wound up driving to San Francisco, about 20 miles away, before she found one. She also stocked up on cash after realizing she had only $1 in her wallet.

Ringo H.W. Chiu 

Firefighters work on a house destroyed by a wildfire called the Getty Fire in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

“What if we needed to evacuate and I had no gas in the car?” she said as her 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son cavorted at a playground. “I didn’t even think about gas and cash because I’m too busy with these guys.”

In Placer County, Angel Smith relied on baby wipes and blankets to keep her 13-month-old son Liam warm and clean. The family has been without power since Saturday night and cannot draw well water without electricity.

She ran a cord from her neighbors’ generator to keep her phone and tablet charged so the two could watch movies. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing overnight in parts of Northern California.

“The hardest part about this for me has been making sure I keep my son warm as it gets cold here,” Smith said.

In Mendocino County, Suzanne Lemley Schein and her husband, Glenn, lost power on Saturday and have been spending the time since playing backgammon by candlelight and going to bed early.

Ringo H.W. Chiu 

A helicopter drops water as a wildfire called the Getty fire burns on Kenter Canyon in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

They haven’t been able to rent out a studio on their property, or even offer it to wildfire evacuees, because it has no power or water.

She said she doesn’t like “the power that PG&E has over all of us,” she said. “This has crippled us in a lot of ways.”

People in well-to-do Marin County, population 260,000, north of San Francisco, have also been without power since Saturday.

Sykes works in San Francisco, so she has “civilization during the day,” but she said it is eerie to drive along darkened highways. She hasn’t opened her freezer since the outage and is not looking forward to it.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be salvageable,” she said.

PG&E, which is in bankruptcy after its equipment was blamed for a string of disastrous fires over the past three years, including a blaze that all but destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, has said its foremost concern is public safety.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom and top utility regulators have accused the company of mismanaging its power system and failing for decades to make the investments needed to make it more durable. He and others have also complained that the utility has botched the outages by not keeping the public adequately informed.

The California Public Utilities Commission plans to open an investigation that could result in fines against PG&E.

The commission said it also plans to review the rules governing blackouts, will look to prevent utilities from charging customers when the power is off and will convene experts to find grid improvements that might lessen shut-offs next fire season.

The state can’t continue experiencing such widespread blackouts, “nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular has exhibited,” PUC President Marybel Batjer said in a statement.

Firefighters continue to attack a massive wildfire burning in northern California wine country ahead of another major wind event. The blaze has grown to at least 103 square miles, destroying 96 buildings and threatening 80,000 more structures.


Gecker reported from Orinda, California. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio contributed from Los Angeles.

Harden considered a suspect early in investigation

Police say Daniel Harden became a suspect early in the investigation into the death of 19-year-old Jose “Joey” Hansen on Sept. 11, 2017.

Hastings Police Capt. Raelee Van Winkle testified near the end of the day Monday that Harden was among five or six names that consistently came up in interviews conducted during the first two days.

“His name came up on Day 2,” she said.

By looking at Hansen’s cellphone, police learned that Deante Mullen was the last person to communicate with Hansen. From there, they started looking into others who had been communicating with Mullen around that time. Police requested records through Facebook, the social media site through which Hansen and Mullen had arranged a drug deal shortly before the shooting.

Van Winkle said they had probable cause to arrest Mullen within a couple days of beginning the investigation, but they waited to find out who else was involved. As the weeks went on, Van Winkle said investigators ruled out some of the group of people associated with Mullen, but Harden’s name remained.

“We continued to receive his name through tips,” she said. “We did attempt to talk to him.”

HPD Chief Adam Story testified Tuesday that he and Van Winkle approached Harden in October 2017 to discuss the case and any information he might be able to provide.

Jurors heard an audio recording of the conversation, in which Harden claimed to know nothing about the shooting. Story said he used specific interview techniques to try to get Harden to talk.

“It’s done to allow a person to tell his side of the story,” he said.

Harden said he didn’t know anything about a shooting. When asked about hanging out with Mullen the prior day or going to Lincoln with Mullen on the day of the murder, Harden said he didn’t know what he was doing that day without checking his calendar.

Story implied that police had physical evidence against him, but Harden continued to deny knowledge of the incident.

“You have physical evidence of me doing something I’ve never done?” Harden said in the recording. “That’s ridiculous.”

At the end of the discussion, Story asked if Harden would voluntarily provide a DNA sample and fingerprints. Harden refused and Story presented a search warrant for the collection. Harden was taken into custody in order to collect DNA samples and fingerprints from him, but was released afterward.

Story testified that Harden had a second chance to talk to police on the day of his arrest in December 2017.

Story said he was among the officers who served the arrest warrant at Harden’s residence. He was initially told Harden wasn’t home, but gained access to the residence and found that he was in a back bedroom. Before Story could open the door, Harden had climbed out the window in an attempt to escape. Other law enforcement personnel were outside the house and apprehended Harden.

At the Adams County Jail, Story testified that he and Van Winkle again interviewed Harden. A video recording of the interview was played for the jury Tuesday.

Again, Harden denied any involvement in the shooting.

“I think this charge is unfounded,” he said in the recording. “I don’t think it will hold up.”

But defense attorney Clarence Mock pointed out in cross examination that in during both interviews, Story had lied to Harden about the existence of physical evidence against him. Story said they had collected physical evidence, but nothing that directly connected Harden to the crime.

Story also explained to the jury why swabs were collected for gunshot residue (G.S.R.), but no tests were completed.

Story said the Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab has limitations on what can be submitted for testing.

“They told me the state lab doesn’t test for G.S.R.,” he said.

He said they could have contacted a private laboratory, but the results wouldn’t have been conclusive. In the end, the decision was made to not submit items for G.S.R. testing.

Tuesday was the fourth day of testimony in the murder trial, which will continue Wednesday.

Harden is on trial for first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit robbery.

First-degree murder is a Class 1A felony punishable by life in prison. Use of a firearm to commit a felony is a Class 1C felony punishable by five to 50 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit robbery is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 50 years in prison.