The sun's rays will soon power homes and businesses in Grand Island, as the city installs its first solar project.
The panels started to go up on an overcast day, for a pilot project.
Utilities Director Tim Luchsinger said, “It's about 10 acres that we've got here, and it's first solar project we've had in Grand Island. What we're trying to do is get an idea of the cost and operation of solar power.”
The one megawatt it will generate won't go far.
“It's a very small fraction of the energy Grand Island would use,” Luchsinger said. The city’s primary source of electricity is a coal-fired power plant.
Luchsinger said the solar project is the first step. Just as the city has invested in wind farms, Nebraska utilities are moving towards solar.
“They're moving away from coal, which there's a lot of coal generation in Nebraska. They're moving to natural gas and renewable energies and I think Grand Island needs to be positioned in the future to do that too,” he said.
A growing number of consumers are concerned about their carbon footprint.
“If all things are equal, they would rather see renewable or natural gas and I think we want to have that opportunity for people,” Luchsinger said.
A private developer is fronting all the cost.
“Because the developer's eligible for tax credits from the federal government. Being city government, we don't pay taxes, so we don't get any tax credits,” he said.
The utilities director said buying electricity from the developer may lessen risk to the ratepayers.
If all goes well, it may be just the start, as the city continues to move towards renewable energy.
Luchsinger said, “I don't know if we'll go to a larger scale in 5 years or 15 years or 20 years, but what we want to do is get a good handle on solar power now so when we decide to do something later on, we'll be more comfortable doing that.”
It should be up and running in a few months. It’s being built next to a utility substation, near the JBS plant on Swift Road. With the addition of another wind farm, renewable energy will be about half of Grand Island’s portfolio in the near future.