Hundreds attend OPPD meeting regarding proposed solar project near McCool Junction

McCOOL JUNCTION – Nearly 200 people attended a meeting this week, during which the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) talked with locals about the entity’s acquisition of K-Junction Solar Project from EDF Renewables and the company’s process in doing its due diligence regarding the construction of a 2,800-acre solar field project near McCool Junction.

The main objective of the meeting, however, was to hear questions and concerns from the public.

The attendees participated in tabletop discussions with an OPPD representative at each table, at the Stone Creek Event Center in McCool. During their discussion periods, they asked questions, talked about their concerns. The conversations were recorded and the representatives took notes to share with the entire crowd later.

“We are here to have a conversation and we are here to listen,” said Vice-President of OPPD Systems Transformations Brad Underwood. “We are here to interact with the community, we want to listen.”

He said they realize there are questions such as “Why solar?” and “Why McCool?”

“As a country we’re seeing the benefits of renewable energy and we have had it in our portfolio for a long time. This area is really conducive to solar. Solar energy is low cost, it enhances affordability for the consumer as well as reliability. Every resource contributes to reliability of the system and the engineers are constantly asking how much are we reliant on each resource. As the power in the nation goes through changes, we need to diversify as well to keep power generation reliable in Nebraska.”

Regarding the location of McCool, he said there is abundant sunlight; also it is near an existing electrical substation and a major system conductor. There are not a lot of wetlands to deal with as well.

“And we have a number of local landowners who are very excited about this,” Underwood said. “And we are very excited to have landowners who are very excited.

“In this process, there has been some justifiable confusion,” Underwood continued. “If OPPD owns this project, we own the rights to the facility and we intend to work with a developer to operate it.”

It was acknowledged OPPD is in the process of determining how this facility will look, pending county planning and zoning considerations. It was also acknowledged the project could have a significant economic impact in York County and for the McCool School District.

“We want to make sure we do a good job and we are excited for the community,” Underwood said.

There were questions about the true economic impact, as OPPD itself would not have to pay the taxes that an independent company would. Underwood said OPPD fully intends to have a third-party operator, which would then pay those taxes, thereby benefiting local taxing districts.

There were also questions about whether the solar structures could withstand severe weather, as this area has seen major hailstorms in recent years.

“We all face severe weather in Nebraska,” Underwood said. “We use technical recommendations, to sustain the panels against certain sizes of hail.”

He said other safety concerns will be addressed as local fire departments would receive training with the solar facility.

There was a question about how much water would be used for this project. Underwood said this technology is not water intensive and would not require any more water than simply providing what is needed for a restroom at the facility for operators to use when they are present.

Some in attendance said they wanted to make sure “we preserve where we live and that landowners’ concerns are heard.” They also had questions about decommissioning, in the future, when the life of the solar field has ended.

Underwood said public power entities in Nebraska have had an end-of-life decommissioning conversation and there is protocol for that process.

“Concerns at this table is about farmland being taken out of production and the ripple effect that comes with that,” said one of the moderators. “And there are concerns regarding water, if OPPD would sell water from the properties used.”

Underwood said, regarding the water, the answer remains “No.” He said there would be no water consumption of any significant type and there would be no piping of any kind. He said water has nothing to do with this project and the landowners still retain the water rights.

“Would the landowners still have to pay the property taxes?” was a question asked.

“Yes, they still own the land,” Underwood responded.

“Would eminent domain ever be used?” concerned citizens asked.

“That is not part of this project,” Underwood said. “We are trying to grasp where that concept came from. These are all willing landowners” who have signed on to lease their land for this purpose.

It was asked if there would be any restrictions placed on properties surrounding the solar field and Underwood said he was unaware of any.

There was also a question if the presence of the solar field would increase the temperatures for adjacent properties. Underwood said it wouldn’t have that type of impact for properties surrounding it.

An attendee asked about the source of the materials used to create the solar structures. “Can you say the materials are not from China?” he asked.

“Probably most of the technology in this room utilizes materials from China,” Underwood said, noting everyone’s cell phones hold technology sourced from that country.

Regarding fencing, Underwood said that is typically undertaken for all solar field projects. He said those types of technical discussions will be held later and he acknowledged there will be conditional use requirements likely imposed by the county regarding those types of aspects.

Underwood thanked those who attended the event, which lasted approximately two hours. He said the entity intends to continue public conversations as this process continues.

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