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Solar project

A rendering shows a series of solar panels planned as part of a project east of Lincoln.

As demand for renewable energy increases and the cost of generating it decreases, the playing field in Nebraska is evolving.

Omaha Public Power District shut down its nuclear plant, the nation’s smallest, near Fort Calhoun in October 2016, citing its operating costs. Just a few months later, LES formally ended its agreement to purchase 30% of the power generated by a coal-fired Nebraska Public Power District plant near Hallam.

Meanwhile, more companies than ever pledge to use 100% of their power from renewable sources, as Facebook has done with wind energy at its new Papillion data center, and energy providers increasingly diversify for more environmentally friendly offerings.

Amid this confluence of trends has come a massive, 230-megawatt solar farm proposed for more than 1,000 acres north and east of Lincoln. The plan goes before the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission on Sept. 4, where New York-based Ranger Power’s application for a special-use permit should be met with open arms – and an approval.

A handful of solar operations are scattered across the state, including the community solar panels installed by Lincoln Electric System starting in 2016. But this particular proposal would dwarf the present capacity of all such installations in the state – by a factor of five – and, when fully operational, could power up to 35,000 homes.

Obviously, commitments from Nebraska’s public power providers to purchase the electricity generated will be instrumental in fueling the economic viability of this project.

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Since the sun shines during times of peak power usage, the added energy produced by a local solar farm would provide a great complement to existing sources – without emitting more carbon. The technology planned for this development would also collect sunlight from both the sky and reflecting off snow in the winter.

Beyond the benefits of solar power, though, this project’s approach merits praise, too.

Of the more than 1,000 acres scattered between O Street and Havelock Avenue on which Ranger Power wants to install solar panels, the company did so entirely by working with willing landowners rather than deploying eminent domain. Furthermore, it’s seeking no tax abatement, and company officials estimate it will pay some $800,000 a year in taxes to Lancaster County entities.

Lastly, the company has a decommissioning plan in place in 40 years. Should the land use or need for solar panels in that area change once the contracts are completed, little work is required beyond removing the poles on which the panels are mounted. They’re designed to be temporary.

Accordingly, its long-term impact on the environment of Lancaster County is expected to be minimal. Despite the amount of energy this solar farm should produce when up and running in a few years, it could play a significant role in reducing the area’s carbon footprint.

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