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.”

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