The Lincoln City Council on Monday paved the way for a solar farm east of Lincoln that would be the largest in the state.
Council members voted 6-0 to grant a special permit to Ranger Power, a New York-based company that wants to build a 230-megawatt solar farm on roughly 1,100 acres in an area bounded by 128th Street, 148th Street and O Street and Havelock Avenue.
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the permit at its Sept. 4 meeting, but two neighbors opposed to the project appealed that decision to the City Council.
One of those appeals was dropped before Monday’s public hearing, likely because the company made concessions to the landowner. Collin Snow, Ranger Power's development manager for the project, told Council members that he did not want to go into specifics of negotiations with landowners.
The project is massive by Nebraska standards. If built to its proposed size, it would be more than five times the size of all installed solar energy projects in the state.
Ranger Power officials said they chose the area east of Lincoln because it is close to the state’s two largest cities and also because it has existing infrastructure — in the form of a nearby transformer owned by Lincoln Electric System.
Supporters of the project noted that it will produce clean energy, have a minimal effect on the area and also produce revenue for participating landowners, as well as the county as a whole.
At full buildout, it’s estimated the project will produce more than $800,000 in property taxes annually for Lancaster County and the Waverly school district.
“I don’t see how we can turn our backs on new sources of clean energy and new sources of revenue for our county,” said Sean Flowerday, a Lancaster County Commissioner.
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Ruth Ann Thompson, who is one of the landowners with a contract with Ranger Power to host solar panels, said she already has 100 on her land from another project, and they produce no noise, require no maintenance and are extremely durable, having endured recent hailstorms with no damage.
She said the project will be a boon both for the neighborhood and for the county as a whole.
Kent Dodson, one of the landowners who appealed the Planning Commission’s vote, disagreed. He said that while he is not opposed to solar power in theory, he believes the project is in the wrong place.
He suggested the solar farm would be more appropriate on land Lincoln owns north of the city near the landfill, although city officials noted that land is reserved for future expansion of the landfill.
Though Dodson was the only person to speak in opposition to the solar project, about a half-dozen people stood and identified themselves as being opposed to the project.
Even though the project is outside the city limits, it is within the city's three-mile zoning jurisdiction, which is why it went before the City Council rather than the County Board.
Councilman Roy Christensen said he saw that as a problem, because that means the opponents basically have no political representation on the matter.
He said that while he understood their objections, the project conforms to the city-county Comprehensive Plan that governs land use.
"It's a tough decision, but I'm going to support this," he said.
Ranger Power still must negotiate contracts to sell the power, and Snow said it would likely be 2021 before any construction on the project begins.