If the company chosen to build a solar energy farm for the Lincoln Electric System thinks it can expedite the project by going through the federal government instead of the state, more power to it.
But the choice raises questions.
First and foremost: Is the state permit process ready for the solar era?
The Lincoln Electric System already has signed a 20-year contract to buy power from the solar farm. The plan calls for construction of a 5-megawatt solar generating facility on about 40 acres of land near Northwest 75th and West Holdrege streets.
In February the project, to be known as the Holdrege Solar Center, got a green light from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission, which amended the zoning code and granted a special permit to allow solar projects on land zoned for agriculture.
In March the Nebraska Power Review Board held a two-hour public hearing on the project, but took no action.
The board, which has the statutory authority to approve or deny a project based on public convenience and necessity, economics and feasibility and whether a project would constitute unnecessary duplication, delayed action and asked the company to submit a brief about the project.
No thanks, Coronal Development Services said this month.
Instead the company said it will expedite the process by self-certifying under the Federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, which was written to lighten the regulatory burden for small (under 80-megawatt) generation projects whose primary energy source is renewable.
At the Nebraska Power Review Board, Coronal officials fielded questions on how cost-effective the project would be in comparison with other energy sources. Scott Benson of LES said the small solar farm was not the cheapest way for LES to generate electricity, but that LES officials think the $8.7 million investment will pay off in the future. Benson noted electric utilities face uncertainties, such as pending strict emission regulations on coal-fired power plants.
It’s important to take note that the solar farm project already has local approval.
Across the state elected officials consistently and frequently espouse the value of local control.
In light of that political philosophy, it’s decidedly odd that Coronal executives seem to think that the locally approved project will fare better under the federal process.
Perhaps state lawmakers and other officials should review the situation to see if changes are advisable. It appears as though state officials need more flexibility to allow small, locally approved experimental projects, like the planned LES Holdrege Solar Center, to move ahead without getting bogged down in a lot of red tape.