A Sun Powered City

Norfolk builds largest solar farm in Nebraska


Graphic by Agnes Kurtzhals

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning presented Norfolk’s Community Solar Power Project at a meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 8 sponsored by the Wayne Green Team.

Aubreanna Miller, News Editor

Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning presented Norfolk’s Community Solar Power Project at a meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 8 sponsored by the Wayne Green Team. 

The meeting took place at the State National Bancshare’s gymnasium. Moenning gave a presentation regarding the 8.5-Megawatt project, before taking questions from the crowd. A Megawatt equals one million watts, which act as a tool to measure power. 

According to the City of Norfolk website, discussion began for the enterprise in the spring of 2017. Nebraska sits at third highest wind energy and 13th highest solar energy potential in the country, Moenning said. Citizens and businesses in the area requested options for engaging in this attainable renewable energy. 

Moving forward, the city council approved a Letter of Intent between the Nebraska Public Power District and the City of Norfolk in September of 2018. This project functions through NNPD’s Sunwise Program, which allows communities to purchase solar energy through solar farms usually built by outside contractors.  

Construction commenced in June of 2021. Early planning presumed the project would conclude in 2020, however COVID and other issues led to its delay. Now, the solar farm, said to be finished in the spring of 2022, resides in a 69-acre site on the west side of the city between Highway 275 and 49th Street. The panels are projected to last 25 to 30 years. Along with the solar panels, installation of environmentally friendly pollinator crops will occur.  

Currently, Kearney holds the largest solar facility in Nebraska, which has a capacity of around 5.5 Megawatts, according to Moenning. Norfolk’s 8.5-Megawatt project will take the crown for the largest once it completes.  

“Part of the reason we wanted to cap out or to make this project as large as we could, is that we can then realize the efficiencies of scale,” Moenning said. “The larger a project is like this, the more efficient it is and the lower the cost.” 

Around 30 companies offered proposals to develop the project. The grand size led to competitive bidding and fair pricing, Moenning explained. The developer consists of a collaboration between Mesner Solar Development, Sol-Systems and Gen Pro Energy.  

“In terms of what we will be paying, that power is about 25 to 30 percent less than what the conventional NNPD generation, which is still largely coal and nuclear based, and so that speaks to renewable [energy],” Moenning said.  

Additionally, the solar project plans to tie directly to a battery energy storage system. The city applied for a grant from the Nebraska Environment Trust Fund to finance a 1.5-Megawatt battery, which would allow some storage for the solar energy collected.  

Moenning expressed that businesses and citizens will be able to buy shares of the energy produced. Planning for the number of shares each household or company can purchase will occur within the next few weeks, but the team is looking at around five shares per household with companies able to purchase a little more than that. If interest supersedes the number of shares, they will move towards a lottery system.  

“Because the power is cheaper coming from the solar facility, they will be able to save on their energy bills,” Moenning said. The average estimated savings rests at around $15 a month. 

Economically, the solar farm will create jobs and circulate capital just as the wind farms have done throughout the last few years. Many prominent and sizeable companies demand the use of renewable energy, which Moenning says will draw them towards Northeast Nebraska. 

The City of Norfolk plans to conduct citizen forums within the next few weeks to gauge share interest and answer any questions that individuals may have.  

For more information about the program or to contact those in charge visit https://norfolkne.gov/government/departments/engineering/projects/community-solar-project/?fbclid=IwAR3TyzDYLBZzDHZ4jj6Ce2e6Qj2B2GBdFYynfMpSYsvI-P9dSGTJhjEID2U.