Solar Energy Talks Happening in Fremont and Omaha

World | Solar Energy

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Area residents interested in the current status of the Fremont Community Solar Farm project have two upcoming opportunities to receive updates about what all the approximately $2 million project entails.

From 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, those gathering at Keene Memorial Library will listen to City Administrator Brian Newton, along with Michael Shonka, another Nebraska solar power advocate, speak about various topics surrounding the Fremont project and solar energy as a whole.

Those unable to attend the Thursday conversation are invited to attend a Smart Energy Talks Nebraska presentation happening from 9 a.m. through 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha inside of the Milo Bail Student Center. The panel discussion will focus on the importance of renewable energy in communities and the challenges and benefits of electric vehicles on the grid.

Newton said that he was invited to talk primarily because Fremont’s Community Solar Farm offers a unique opportunity that the dozen-or-so others scattered around the state of Nebraska do not.

What is unique about Fremont’s 1.5 megawatt, 5,000 panel farm, is that those utilizing the farm’s energy have the choice to buy actual panels on the farm, or to avoid a long-term commitment and upfront payment by subscribing to blocks of the panel’s monthly energy output.

The farm, which sold out in 7 weeks, is comprised of 180 residential customers and approximately 20 commercial customers. There is a pretty even mix among people who subscribed to blocks of energy output and those who purchased panels at an upfront cost of $180 per panel for a 20-year term – the approximate life of the solar farm.

The farm is currently under construction on a 10-acre plot of land located south of Jack Sutton Drive. All customers utilizing the plot had the chance to purchase solar shares that would cover up to 80 percent of their used Kilowatt hours.

On average, residential customers in Fremont use about 1200 KW hours monthly, Newton said. Those who purchased panels have an estimate return on their investment in approximately 9 years. While there is a slightly elevated monthly utility cost, there were up-front benefits to purchasing panels.

“The reason a lot of people decided to buy the panels is because they get 30-percent back on the $180 panel price the first year because of the investment tax credit,” Newton said.

Newton said that a majority of people he’s spoken with elected to get involved with the solar farm because it has a positive impact on the environment. But with that being said, it also makes some business sense.

“It’s a lock on their energy for 20 years, and a lot of people said, ‘wow, that’s a good deal, where else can I lock in my energy price for 20 years?,’” he said. “So it made business sense to them, too.”

Currently, approximately 70 customers are on the waiting list to get involved with the next phase of the Community solar Farm, Newton said.

As best as he knows, Fremont has the only solar farm in Nebraska that gives people the choice to purchase panels or to subscribe to blocks of energy output.

“I don’t want to say that we are the early adopters, or that we are on the bleeding edge, but I certainly think we are on the leading edge,” Newton said. “And that’s thanks to the Utility and Infrastructure Board and City Council for wanting to diversify some of our energy. You’ve got to have leaders that believe in this first before you can even offer it.”