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When Lincoln Electric System asked developers to submit proposals for a community solar project, administrators of the city-owned utility didn't know if they'd get any responses.

They got 78 proposals from 14 developers who want to build projects ranging in size from 100 to 2,000 kilowatts, in and around Lincoln.

The goal of the community solar project is to give LES customers who don't have suitable roofs for solar panels — or who have roofs pointing in a wrong direction or no individual roofs at all — a way to support a renewable energy project, possibly by purchasing shares.

Scott Benson, manager of resources and transmission planning, said those details will be worked out soon. LES staff will evaluate the proposals and give a recommendation to the LES administrative board July 18.

Ken Winston with the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said he's glad to see LES move forward with the project and curious to see what type of customer involvement plan evolves.

The community solar project is the last of a three-part solar initiative "road map" rolled out in September. The other two, a renewable energy rate and incentive program, were put into place June 1.

Benson updated the LES board on the solar project Friday but said he couldn't disclose specifics about the proposals. He did say they all are for projects in and around Lincoln and came from developers both in Nebraska and out of state, including what he called some big players.

LES would buy all of the electricity generated by whatever project is picked under a 20-year contract, but the developer would own and operate the facility.

Initially, LES worked with the city, Lincoln Airport Authority, Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and private landowners to see whether they had any suitable property for the large solar panels that would comprise the project.

"None have turned out," Benson said, mostly because no one wanted to tie up their land for two decades.

The Airport Authority initially was receptive to the idea, but its interest waned after the Federal Aviation Administration got nervous about solar panels at airports, he told the board. A moratorium on such projects is in place while the FAA studies the issue.

LES then looked at its own properties and found suitable land at its Terry Bundy Generating Station north of Lincoln, Benson said. Developers were told they could site the plant there or elsewhere.

Benson said LES would like to have a project in place by December 2015.

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