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Noel Nienhueser of Hastings Utilities answers questions for a tour group Thursday at the Hastings Community Solar Farm.

The sun was shining on the city of Hastings Thursday afternoon for a ribbon cutting at the new community solar project.

Hastings Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson joked about the fact the original plan was to hold the ribbon cutting with the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, which turned out to be cold and rainy, and HU employees wanted to take credit for Thursday’s favorable weather.

The project’s 6,012 panels hummed softly as they converted sunlight.

HU staff gave tours of the solar field, which is west of the Hastings Municipal Airport, north of 12th Street along Highland Road, to the several dozen visitors on hand for the ribbon cutting.

Two Tesla vehicles were on hand for the ribbon cutting, charging their batteries on the panels.

“Thanks for the partnerships we currently have and the partnerships we’re going to have on this project,” Johnson said. “It’s still a great opportunity if you think longer term than just today. It’s good for the utilities. We think it’ll be good for the community and a lot of folks.”

Derek Zeisler, HU director of marketing and energy supply, said the project is customer owned and HU operated.

“We’re excited about the price point it came in,” he said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to learn here. We’ve got opportunities this opens up for us that will be great for the learning part of this.”

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Hastings Utilities manager Kevin Johnson (left) speaks Thursday before a ribbon cutting ceremony at Hastings Community Solar Farm. Also making remarks were Derek Zeisler, HU director of marketing and energy supply, (center) and Mayor Corey Stutte.

Options include the purchase of installed panels, participating in a solar share program or a combination of the installation and share options. The options carry a one-time $50 enrollment fee due for all options at the time of application that is refundable as a credit to the account after one year of participation.

One 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.

One solar share will include three panels and equal 150 kWh.

There is also a combination of the purchase and share options available to customers.

For a residential customer who uses 1,000 kWh per month, two solar shares would cover 30 percent of that usage.

It would take six purchased panels to cover that 30 percent mark at a total cost of $2,304, $1,612.80 after the current solar investment tax credit.

At that level, the customer would save $4.71 per month, but would be making the investment on the front end of the project.

Solar participants would benefit from a base energy credit that is adjusted annually and represents what it costs Hastings to purchase power from the Southwest Power Pool. That credit will initially be 2.13 cents per kWh.

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Jeff Berggren, GenPro Energy Solutions Nebraska Program Manager speaks Thursday before a ribbon cutting ceremony at Hastings Community Solar Farm.

Customers choosing the solar share option also would receive the 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.

Under pricing without solar, an HU residential customer is paying $107.53 per month for 1,000 kWh of electricity.

The panels are generating kilowatts that Hastings Utilities doesn’t have to buy. So if the cost of the market starts to grow, so will that credit.

GenPro Energy Solutions constructed the 1.5 megawatt AC solar project after receiving the contract with a $2.38 million bid.

The panels were energized in mid September, which was a delay from the original completion date of Sept. 2 due to weather.

Jeff Berggren, GenPro’s Nebraska program manager, said the panels have the newest tracker technology.

The solar panels have already been tested by the elements and passed.

“We proved what it could do already with the hail and the wind out here,” said in reference to the Aug. 22 hail storm that struck west Hastings. “It was crazy that night out here.”

Just one panel was lost that night, which Berggren attributed to a defect from the factory.

Mayor Corey Stutte said he began receiving interest about a community solar project soon after taking office in late 2016.

“It’s great to see these 6,000 solar panels out here,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the city of Hastings. It’s great for our industrial partners and all of our other customers, as well.”

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A tour group makes its way through the Hastings Community Solar Farm Thursday afternoon following a ribbon cutting.

City Administrator Dave Ptak said he was the first HU customer to sign up for a solar share. He has six.

“To me it’s an investment not only in today as far as the benefits to Hastings and its consumers but also for the future,” he said. “That’s really why we’re all here.”

Bill Hitesman and Jack Schreiner, current and past chairmen of the Hastings Utility Board, both commended staff for their work on the project.

“Staff made it a pretty easy decision for us,” Schreiner said. “They came to us and had plenty of information.”

Schreiner referenced the fact that pricing for participation in the solar project is not too different from standard HU electric rates.

“Right now I know people are looking ‘Well gosh where do I save the money at?’ You’ve got to remember these things are locked in for a long period and other costs are going to continue to escalate where these aren’t,” he said.

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