Airport Solar

A row of solar panels are installed west of Hastings Municipal Airport Thursday afternoon.

Pricing options for participation in Hastings’ planned solar power project were made public Thursday with registration to begin mid-July.

Derek Zeisler, Hastings Utilities director of marketing and energy supply, shared those options during a report at the Hastings Utility Board’s regular meeting.

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 at the time of application that is refundable as a credit to the account after one year of participation.

“I think you’re going to get a lot of customers who just want the opportunity to participate in renewables,” Zeisler said. “We buy all of our power off the SPP market. That’s made up of all sorts of generation. The one thing we can guarantee (by participating in solar) is that every kilowatt that is produced with solar we’re not buying from anywhere else.”

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 within three arrays just west of Hastings Municipal Airport. Although the project still has its originally planned completion date of Sept. 2, Zeisler said recent weather delays may push back completion to early October.

He is planning an initial public meeting, to answer questions about the project, during the fourth week of June.

He said the panels are designed to absorb light, not reflect light, giving off less reflection than a typical window and thus avoiding the lake effect.

Utility manager Kevin Johnson said creation of the solar project is in response to interest in renewables from both residential and commercial customers.

An ordinance outlining the solar pricing options has been submitted to the city’s legal department. It will then go to the city council for approval.

Registration in the city’s solar project could be available once the ordinance takes effect — 15 days after its approval. Zeisler has identified July 15 as the start for that.

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 installed panel is $384.

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

The standard retail rate schedule still applies to all customers.

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

It would take six purchased panels to cover that 30 % 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.

The installed panels could be transferred between HU customers or sold back to Hastings Utilities.

There is no commitment for a certain duration of participation.

“We’re not looking to lock customers into something,” Zeisler said. “As far as we’re concerned we’re giving people who are interested in this a great opportunity at a very reasonable price. At the end of the day if they get into it and it’s not for them we want them to get back out of it.”

The $384 per purchased panel cost is on the low end of the range Zeisler has seen across Nebraska for municipal solar projects.

To meet that 30 % level with the combo option would take one solar share and three installed panels for a total purchase price for the installed panels of $1,152, $806.40 after the tax credit.

Under current pricing, without solar, an HU residential customer is paying $107.53 per month for 1,000 kWh of electricity. That amount includes the customer charge of $4.83, an energy charge of 76.90 for 1,000 kWh at 7.69 cents per kWh and a fuel adjustment charge of $25.80

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.

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.

Installed panels have an operation and maintenance charge of .06 cents per kWh.

Customers choosing the solar share option would also 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.

If all of the panels selected for shares there would be 2,004 shares.

“We’ll be tracking that,” Zeisler said. “Every time a share sells we’ll be taking three panels off what we could potentially sell.”

The combo option, generating 306 kWh, would save the customer $1.04 per month.

A page should be available soon on the Hastings Utilities website with information about the pricing and giving customers the option to plug in their own numbers to help make the decision whether solar is right for them.

“Whatever your reason is, if this is something you’re interested in I hope we’ve broken it down and given people enough information so they can make an educated decision that fits whatever their wants or needs are,” Zeisler said.

While there was some discussion during Thursday’s meeting about saving capacity for either residential or commercial use, participation in the project most likely will be on a first come, first serve basis. Utility officials fear one segment could fill up and not the other would not if capacity is reserved.

“And for us to do that not putting limitations is, I think, the best option and the lowest risk,” Johnson said.

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