Members of the Hastings Planning Commission recommended approval of solar regulations for the city the same day Hastings City Council members discussed the future of renewable energy in the community.
“In looking at the individual, the community and the utility-scale solar I believe we have something that’s very user-friendly and able to be understood and applied with little effort,” Development Services Director Don Threewitt told Planning Commission members Monday when they discussed solar regulations.
Members of the Hastings City Council approved a resolution in June declaring a temporary moratorium on solar energy generation facilities within the city of Hastings and the two-mile extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction boundary until applicable regulations could be crafted.
Commission members recommended approval of the solar regulations to the Hastings City Council.
Keith Marvin with Marvin Planning Consultants of David City, who helped the city with the regulation, was on hand.
The question was brought up during a Planning Commission work session whether rooftop solar projects should be prohibited.
Threewitt reached out to other communities that have adopted similar regulations. All of them allowed rooftop solar projects, so Threewitt said it would be best if Hastings kept that, too.
During the City Council work session, also on Monday, Hastings Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson shared with members of the Hastings City Council an update about city plans for renewable energy.
He said he’s not ready yet to talk about rates, costs or locations for a renewable energy project.
However, he said Hastings Utilities is vetting city-owned property for potential solar field locations including the Hastings Municipal Airport, the northeast truck route and either the pollution control facility or Whelan Energy Center.
Johnson said he also will speak with a landowner who has property west of Hastings and expressed interest in providing land for a solar project.
The city is soliciting public participation from all HU customers to gauge interest in renewable energy.
It’s available on the city website. A link to the survey is included in customers' latest bills.
“We wanted to make sure we reached out a lot of different ways,” Johnson said.
As the city is evaluating a potential renewable energy project, Johnson said one option is a purchase power agreement in which the city would contract with an outside organization to handle work.
The city also could take on a more hands-on ownership with direct operation of the project.
Hastings has been approached by Bluestem Energy Solution, its partner for the wind turbine on the Central Community College-Hastings, about another wind project.
The city also has been in communication with another group offering another 20-30 megawatts for a specific rate over the course of at least 20 years.
“We’re doing it with discipline,” Johnson said. “We’re not committing to anything, but we are committing to doing the due diligence that’s needed for us to really understand the potential impacts to customers, to our potential rates for what we would have to pay, and the timeframe and terms.”
While Hastings has not been out in front when it comes to renewable energy, Johnson said, the city is learning from other communities that are further along in the renewable energy process.
Hastings still has energy capacity available for sale with the Whelan Energy Center coal fire-powered power plants.
“My opinion is we won’t get away from coal in the near term at all, nor should we, but we also don’t control those units like we did when they were first built,” Johnson said, referring to the Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization Hastings joined in 2014.
Renewables are new to the Southwest Power Pool with opportunity to have more control.
Also during the council work session, City Attorney Dave Ptak and Human Resources Director Lori Hartman presented a working draft of Chapter 3 of the Hastings City Code with personnel rules for city employees.
Ptak said the chapter will be divided into three parts: Civil service for police and fire, personnel and hiring practices.
He said revision should eventually include a safety policy, drug policy and social media policy.