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It's a homeowner's dream: Install a solar or wind energy system, use the power you need and then sell the rest to your local utility.

Despite the up-front cost of installing equipment, more homeowners and businesses are looking into making that dream a reality. Others already have.

The city of Lincoln, for example, has installed a $48,000 solar energy system at its police substation at 27th and Holdrege streets, and the Unitarian Church of Lincoln at 63rd and A is adding a geothermal and solar energy system as part of a $2.4 million renovation and expansion project.

The Lincoln Electric System is aware of the growing interest in solar and other forms of renewable energy and wants to revise its current net metering rate and incentives and create a new renewable generation rate, said Scott Benson, LES resource and transmission manager.

Net metering allows customers who generate their own electricity from solar or wind power to feed the power they do not use back into the grid and get paid for it.

The new renewable generation rate is for projects that sell all of their electricity back to LES.

Utility staff will discuss the proposed changes and its recently completed study, "Value of Distributed Solar," at a public meeting on March 5.

In the Lincoln area, net-metered installations, which are mostly solar, total about 150 kilowatts -- enough to meet the energy needs of about 30 homes, Benson said.

But more installations may be on the way as the nation looks to solar and other renewable sources to solve long-term energy problems.

Nebraska is ranked 13th among states with the greatest solar energy potential, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Benson characterized the revision of incentives for net metering customers as a way to make the rate structure more equitable for all LES customers and encourage more growth in renewable energy.

"We want to find more opportunities without putting an undue burden on the entire customer base," Benson said.

The LES Administrative Board is to review proposed changes March 21.

John Atkeison, energy policy director for the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, said LES is using the right approach.

"What they have done is put a monetary value to the benefits of what solar brings to the utility as a whole," he said. "This is a more complete picture."

Atkeison and the federation have been advocating for solar energy and encouraging LES to look at it as a benefit to all of its customers.

"The more distributed energy produced in the city, the less they have to bring in from the outside and the longer they can wait to build a new power plant," he said.

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Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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