How do solar panels generate electricity?

    Each solar panel contains photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into energy by producing direct current (DC) electricity. Energy generation from solar panels is affected by seasonal variance in daylight hours and weather, such as overcast or rainy days.  

    How will OPPD generate electricity at night or when the sun isn’t shining?

    Because solar panels require sunlight to generate electricity, OPPD relies on other generation resources, such as wind turbines, natural gas units, and coal to generate electricity at night or on cloudy days. OPPD manages a combination of power generation technologies to provide energy to our customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.   OPPD can also purchase electricity from other utilities in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) when market prices are low.  

    How could OPPD store energy at night or when the sun isn’t shining?

    OPPD continually evaluates the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of power technologies, including energy storage and batteries. Battery storage was included in the modeling process to identify technologies that optimize affordability, reliability/resiliency, and environmental sensitivity; however, battery storage was not recommended because it does not meet multi-day resiliency needs and is costly at this time. That said, OPPD received funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust for a battery storage pilot project to gain operational experience with storage technologies.

    Will solar panels withstand Nebraska weather, such as thunderstorms with high winds and hail?

    OPPD is specifying minimum structural design standards for solar facilities to withstand high winds. Similarly, the solar industry has put significant research and development into designing solar panels and infrastructure that are not as susceptible to hail damage.  

    I heard solar energy is expensive. Has it become more affordable?

    OPPD continually evaluates the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of power technologies, including solar. The average cost per kilowatt of energy produced from solar panels has decreased significantly in the past few years. Utility-scale solar energy has recently become cost-competitive with traditional generation sources.

    Is Nebraska a good place to install solar panels, given our geographic location and weather?

    Though Nebraska may not have the intensity of sun compared to states in the southwestern United States, there is still plenty of solar power potential. Data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that Nebraska is ranked 13th in the nation for solar energy potential. Additionally, advancements in tracking and inverter technologies allow solar design firms to better optimize the amount of sun that is actually captured.

    Where might the solar facility(ies) be?

    In March 2021, Community Energy began connecting with customers in Saunders County to listen to their thoughts and questions and to share information about the 81 MW, 500-acre array to be located there. 

    The OPPD project team is analyzing solar power proposals, and is currently focusing on a number of counties, in or near OPPD’s service area. These counties include Washington, Cass, Burt and Nemaha, among others. No other projects have been finalized at this time. 

    When will the new solar facilities be announced?

    In April 2021, OPPD announced the next step in our Power with Purpose work—a signed agreement for our first utility-scale solar array with solar developer Community Energy. The 81 MW, 500-acre array will be located in Saunders county and marks the first step in our plans for 400-600MW of utility scale solar. 

    OPPD is reviewing and finalizing additional locations for the utility-scale solar facilities and expects further clarity on solar projects in Q2 2021.

    Solar panels take up a lot of space for the energy they generate. How much land will the solar facility require?

    Generally, five to seven acres of land are required to generate one megawatt of solar power. However, there is some variance, depending on location.

    Are solar facilities a concern for adjacent property owners?

    Solar facilities are seen but not heard, and require very little maintenance. While a solar facility will change the view of the landscape from certain vantage points, it will not increase noise or traffic for adjacent property owners.  Typical solar facilities are approximately 10 feet tall.

    What equipment will be needed to generate solar power, aside from the panels themselves?

    Solar facilities require very few components to generate electricity. Racking systems are installed to secure the solar panels to the ground and align the panels at the proper tilt to optimize exposure to the sun. Blocks or rows of panels are connected to inverters, which convert the direct current (DC) electricity output from the solar panels into alternating current (AC), which is usable by our customers. Lastly, onsite transformers deliver medium-voltage power to a nearby substation or other interconnection point to the power grid.

    What is the difference between OPPD’s Community Solar program and utility-scale solar?

    With OPPD Community Solar, you get affordable solar energy for you, personally, to offset your energy use with clean, renewable power without the expense of putting solar on your home. This program allows customers to offset their own usage with renewable energy beyond OPPD’s blended generation portfolio, which today includes coal, natural gas, hydro and wind. For more information, visit the Community Solar Program website.

    Utility-scale solar meets a different need. As OPPD needs new generation to meet load growth in its service territory. Many generation technologies were considered to solve the need for accredited capacity while maintaining system reliability and resiliency. OPPD’s planned utility-scale solar will add generation facilities similar to the way that coal, natural gas, and wind generation resources support OPPD’s capacity, reliability, and resiliency needs today.

    Why didn’t OPPD wait to launch Community Solar if you knew a utility-scale solar farm was coming?

    The OPPD Community Solar program meets a different need than that of utility-scale solar facility. The community solar program was developed in response to OPPD customers’ desire to have a specific solar facility in which they could participate. Community Solar provides individual customers the ability to purchase incremental solar energy above OPPD’s current generation portfolio. Utility-scale solar supports OPPD’s changing generation portfolio based on our growing load and planned retirement of older fossil assets.

    I received a letter in the mail from a residential solar panel provider, who claims to be working with OPPD, offering me services. What is this about?

    That offer is not related to OPPD’s plans for utility-scale solar or community solar. OPPD is not "working with" any residential solar panel provider, although OPPD does have contact on a regular basis from some residential solar panel providers. We recommend that our customers proceed cautiously, as they would for any major purchase. OPPD is always available to answer questions on energy-related matters. The customer service number is (402) 536-4131 within the Omaha area or 1-877-536-4131, toll-free, outside of the Omaha area.

    Will the land used for the solar facilities be removed from the tax rolls?

    Solar can create more revenue than crop ground leases. For solar projects owned by a third party renewable developer on leased land, the project will pay property taxes. Landowners continue to pay the property taxes for the land at its assessed rate. In addition, $3,518 per megawatt (MW), called the nameplate capacity tax, will be provided. This will result in a big increase in tax revenue for the location’s county. For example, if the project is 100MW, that is more than $350,000 in NEW tax revenue to the area on an annual basis. This money is directly applied to the location’s county government budget, which helps pay for roads and other community improvements.

    If the solar facility is owned by OPPD on land owned by OPPD, then the facility would not pay taxes. As a public power utility and political subdivision of the state, OPPD does not pay property taxes. This is the same for OPPD’s current coal and natural gas facilities.

    What is OPPD’s role in the new utility-scale solar generation?

    Once OPPD identified the need for additional generation, an RFP was created for the project. OPPD led a comprehensive sourcing process and reviewed possible sites to meet the utility’s unique Power with Purpose capacity accreditation, resiliency and reliability needs. OPPD will analyze the different proposals, narrow them down, and choose one or multiple projects. Potential projects may be owned by a developer or by OPPD.

    For projects owned by a developer, if OPPD and the developer agree to terms and conditions of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the project begins it next stages, which include local county approvals and construction of the solar facility(ies). The construction of the facility(ies) will be completed by the developer(s), not OPPD. However, OPPD will construct the substations and transmission lines that will connect the project to OPPD’s system. This process is similar to OPPD’s current Community Solar facility and OPPD’s wind PPA facilities.

    While OPPD may select to enter into a PPA contract with a developer to benefit from federal tax credits, OPPD could also own a solar project. If OPPD owns a solar project, then OPPD will lead the planning and construction of the project, just like the gas generation.  OPPD’s current focus remains on signing PPAs with developers.

    At this time, no decisions have been made on final solar projects for Power with Purpose. Once the sourcing process is complete and contracts are signed, OPPD and the suppliers will work together to announce the selected site(s).

    As the sourcing process is complete and contracts are signed, OPPD and the suppliers will work together to announce the selected site(s).

    What is the solar developer’s responsibility with the utility-scale solar generation?

    Solar developers begin siting projects years before signing contracts with a utility or other large customer. Part of a developer’s job is to have sites ready for potential customers to use. 

    Once a utility has issued an RFP, solar developers respond with potential sites they have already identified. Solar developers have site-ready attributes developed, and are responsible for: 

    • Generator Interconnection Agreements (GIA) through the Southwest Power Pool 
    • Land leases (typically, solar developers arrange land leases rather than owning the land)
    • Environmental studies 
    • Local governmental meetings and permits/zoning applications 
    • Taxes 
    • Site design and construction 
    • Project ownership 
    • Facility operations and maintenance (including ground cover) 
    • Decommissioning plans 

    What happens to the land after the solar panels are done being used?

    Whether the solar generation is owned by OPPD or a developer, the land is restored to its original state.