News Releases

Norfolk solar facility, battery energy storage system ready to go with aim at being in operation in late 2021

August 19, 2020

Norfolk, Neb. – The sun is shining on the City of Norfolk as it will be the latest Nebraska municipality to  become part of Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) SunWise Community Solar program.  There will be an added aspect of the project for NPPD with the installation of a battery energy storage system (BESS) that will be tied to the solar array as a demonstration project.

NPPD plans to enter into a 30-year agreement with N Solar for an 8.5 megawatt solar unit to be constructed on land at the city’s well field. The expectation is installation of the solar panels will begin in 2021 with operations beginning by the end of 2021. “We are pleased to be adding Norfolk as one of our Community Solar program,” said NPPD Vice-President and General Manager-Retail Tim Arlt. “The interest in solar energy continues to grow and we have interest from other NPPD retail communities and we anticipate adding more units in the future.”

Norfolk is the fourth Nebraska community to be part of the program that currently includes Venango, Scottsbluff (two units) and Kearney.  

“We’re anxious to move forward on this first-of-its-kind project in Nebraska,” said Mayor Josh Moenning.  “Building the largest community solar project in the state, and the first tied to a battery storage system, further positions Norfolk to be a leader in clean, cost-competitive renewable energy that will  boosts and support the local economy.”

In partnership with the city, NPPD will host an open house for Norfolk customers to learn about the SunWise Community Solar program that currently operates in three locations, answer questions, and work with customers interested in purchasing solar energy.

N Solar, a three-company partnership that includes Messner Development, Gen Pro Energy Solutions and Sol Systems, will have a lease agreement with the City of Norfolk for the land where the solar panels will be installed. Eventually the well field site will have over 25,000 solar panels in place to generate electricity from the sun. Collectively, the three N Solar companies have been involved in a combined 20 solar projects across Nebraska, including three of the four NPPD SunWise Community Solar projects.

“Norfolk is a wonderful community and we are grateful for the opportunity to build on our relationship with NPPD through this project,” said Cliff Mesner of Mesner Development Company. “Having delivered their first community solar project, we are now excited to help bring the first energy storage installation to NPPD’s growing portfolio.”

The BESS will be charged through generation provided by the solar unit and can be discharged daily to accomplish several goals. The BESS unit will store approximately the amount of electricity that a small home would use over the course of two months.

NPPD, with support from the city of Norfolk, received a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) in the amount of $490,000 over two years for the BESS project. Norfolk committed to participate in the funding request as a grant partner and is providing the real estate for the project site, weekly inspections and guided public tours.

“Battery energy storage is a versatile resource,” said NPPD Renewable Energy Consultant Ron Rose.  “It has the ability to adapt technologies, applications, and business models to utility needs.”

This first of its kind in Nebraska demonstration project is  a one-megawatt (MW), two megawatt hour (MWh) utility scale, proven technology.  The BESS will be charged and discharged daily to accomplish many separate goals for NPPD such as demand management, frequency regulation, voltage support, and smoothing and shifting variable renewable energy generation.  “With the knowledge gained from this project, it will be reproducible for other Nebraska electrical utilities, assuming  future price reductions and increasing battery performance,” Rose explained.

With the BESS connected to a variable non-dispatchable renewable energy source such as wind or solar, the renewable generation now becomes dispatchable and will reduce  fossil fuel generation in the future.  This project was not economical for NPPD to fund in total but became possible with the Nebraska Environmental Trust grant sharing the battery costs.  

NPPD’s SunWise Community Solar Program has an existing facility in Kearney that has been in operation for nearly two years, generating 5.7 megawatts of energy through photovoltaic panels. In the past year a 4.375 megawatt unit was installed in Scottsbluff.  Smaller solar arrays in the program are located in Scottsbluff (128 kilowatts) and Venango (98 kilowatts).

N Solar is a three-company partnership designed to provide every Nebraska community with the opportunity for clean energy integrated with local public power districts and municipal utilities. N Solar comprises Nebraska’s Mesner Development in partnership with GenPro Energy Solutions in site development and construction, and Sol Systems in financing, ownership, and power purchase agreements. To date, this team has developed, constructed and financed over 19 megawatts of solar in Nebraska.

When are rates set?
NPPD rates are reviewed annually, and any proposed rate changes are normally approved during NPPD’s December Board of Directors Meeting.

Will my bill be higher this month because of the cold weather and rolling outages?
Most NPPD customers can expect to see a higher monthly electricity bill this month due to the recent cold weather event which caused customers to have higher usage.  A higher bill would not be the result of a rate increase however because the rates did not change.

Does my NPPD rate change throughout the year?
When proposing a rate change, NPPD typically sets and approves rates during the December Board of Directors Meeting. The rates that are approved go into effect February 1 of the next year.

The only other time NPPD’s rates change during the year is when the higher summer rates automatically go into effect for the months of June through September. Aside from this, any increase or decrease in your bill is likely tied to increased energy usage during severe cold or hot weather.

NPPD retail rates have remained steady with no overall increase in eight years.

How will February’s cold temperatures and rolling outages impact my rates in future years?
The financial impact of the most recent historic polar vortex events as it relates to rates are unclear at the present time. Many factors, including future weather impacts, load growth, and the cost to generate and deliver electricity will impact NPPD’s financial position and rates.

How will cold temperatures and rolling outages impact my monthly bill?
Simply put, if you use more electricity than “normal” you will have a higher bill. Rates have not changed. Think of it as a consistently priced fuel, that never fluctuates in price per gallon. If you need to fill up more often, it will require a larger amount of product, and as a result you have higher costs.

Does it take more energy and cost more to lower my thermostat now, only to raise it later to regain warmth?
This is a myth that many have heard for years. Contrary to belief, your system will operate for longer periods to recover and heat pump systems may switch to supplemental or auxiliary heat, but overall energy use is reduced if the setback occurs over at least a few hours. 

NPPD operators at our control center handle increases and decreases in load and train for these situations. The operators refer to this as the Cold Load Effect. When customers are returned to service from a long outage, there can be a sharp increase in electricity usage that must be accounted for. As motors begin to start when the load is energized and more equipment powers on than was previously when the customer was interrupted. This means, when there are several customers experiencing an outage at the same time, operators need to consider the load when the circuit is restored can be higher than when it was interrupted. The longer a circuit is interrupted, the more pronounced the Cold Load Effect will be.

In the case of this most recent event, homes were using heat so consistently during the day and the interruptions were short enough that there was no significant change in electricity usage when one circuit was brought back online and another was turned off. During the rolling blackouts, when one group of customers was experiencing an outage, a new set of customers would betaken offline before the first group was returned to service. This helped ensure that there were no spikes in electricity usage that would have a negative impact on the generation and load balance. 

Who can I contact for assistance with payment arrangements for my NPPD bill, or information on assistance agencies?
Payment arrangements can be arranged by contacting NPPD at 1-877-ASK-NPPD.

Those in need should also contact NPPD at the above listed number for more information and a listing of energy assistance from local agencies.

What is a rolling blackout outage?
Rolling blackouts, also known as rotating outages, are controlled, temporary interruptions of the electrical service directed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). These outages can occur when electricity generating resources cannot meet the electricity demand in the region. NPPD and others must reduce demand in an amount directed by SPP and act upon this within minutes.

When is a rolling blackout necessary?
Rolling blackouts are necessary as a last resort to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid system. SPP directs rotating outages when electricity generating resources cannot meet the electrical demand in the region. They rotate or roll to different systems and areas so we can all absorb a short outage at different times versus a long outage for one specific area.

The recent situation was extraordinary and an unprecedented chain of events, including historic low temperatures across the entire SPP footprint, lack of wind generation, reduced amounts of natural gas because of frozen wells and sky rocking natural gas prices. A situation never seen before in this region since SPP was founded.

Why was there little notice before power was shut off to some customers?
Just like many of our retail and wholesale customers, NPPD received the emergency notices from SPP with little warning, requiring us to load shed with just a few minutes to act.

NPPD did our best in this emergent situation to communicate not only to our large industrial and residential retail customers, but also with as many wholesale customers as we could. This was done with a press release, via emails, regularly scheduled wholesale customer meetings throughout the event, and using social media. Unfortunately, with the short timeframe not all customers were able to be reached before some outages began.

We continue to evaluate and review the events of this situation and will look for ways to learn and improve our process, should it ever be needed again.

Is there an easy way to track my energy usage?
Tracking your energy usage can easily be done by downloading NPPD’s mobile application, “NPPD On The Go!”. Download by searching “NPPD” in the Google Play or Apple App store. Then click “Register” and have your account number, service address zip code, and phone number ready. Finally complete the account information.

What are the benefits of using “NPPD On The Go!”?

  • Fast, easy and secure way to view and pay your bill.
  • View monthly usage and comparison to previous usage.
  • Monitor active outages and report unexpected outages.
  • Direct access to customer support through your mobile device.
  • Request new service or stop current service.
  • Sign up for outage, billing, and usage notifications.

Who and what is Southwest Power Pool (SPP)?
NPPD is a member of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a non-profit regional transmission organization in the central part of the United States. SPP is mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure customers in the region receive reliable power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitively priced electricity. SPP and its members coordinate the flow of electricity across more than 65,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines spanning 14 states.

Why is it important to have a diverse energy mix?
NPPD believes a diverse generation mix serves our customers best. We use wind -- when it is available. We use coal -- which is reliable and helps keep electric rates low. We use water -- one of the oldest forms of renewable energy. We use nuclear -- which offers emission-free, around-the-clock power. We use natural gas -- to complement the portfolio.

NPPD’s diverse energy generation mix helps keep our electricity reliable and keep rates as low as possible.

Public power, as it always does, answered the call to help protect the bulk electric system which serves the central portion of the country and is part of the larger Eastern Interconnect. The system requires real-time balancing of generation and load. In doing so, we also protected our customers from more detrimental, long-term blackouts.

All of NPPD’s plants were available to SPP during this emergency event. They performed as beautifully during the emergency as our NPPD teammates who worked around the clock to manage the safety, health and financial risk for our customers.