SCOTTSBLUFF — Scottsbluff could realize some of the lowest electric rates in the nation under an agreement that will bring solar power to all city operations.
During its Monday meeting, council members approved a lease agreement with Sol Systems LLC as part of the city’s five-megawatt solar power project. Sol Systems would then enter into an energy purchase agreement with Nebraska Public Power District for distribution of the solar electricity.
The solar panels will be located southeast of the Landers Soccer Complex, north of Scottsbluff and track with the sun to absorb solar energy throughout the day.
Scottsbluff City Manager Nathan Johnson said the electricity generated would be added to that being generated at NPPD’s 150 kilowatt array at its offices on South Beltline Highway.
“The projected power purchase agreement comes out to about five cents a kilowatt hour,” Johnson said. “Right now we’re at 5.9 cents a kilowatt hour. We intend to put all the city assets and electrical infrastructure into this solar project.”
Johnson added once it’s completed, Scottsbluff should become one of the first renewable electric cities in the state, maybe even the country. At five cents per kilowatt hour, the city will realize some of the lowest power costs in the country.
In other action, council members also discussed the city’s support agreement with the Riverside Discovery Center, which expires in 2020. The city will need to consider what level of support can be worked into its budget going forward.
“We’ve been reviewing the agreement and the organization clearly can’t continue to operate without some support from the city,” Johnson said.
Scottsbluff currently supports the Riverside Discovery Center at $350,000 a year.
“I think we need to start backing away as a zoo supporter, but not all at once,” said council member Scott Shaver. “We could maybe cut the funding in half once the contract expires and gradually reduce it from there.”
Shaver said the level of support would be contingent on the city’s budget. If the budget continues to shrink as it has in the last few years, the city won’t be able to support the zoo as much as it has in the past.
“If we’re going to continue funding at the current level, we’ll have to find another funding source other than the general fund,” said council member Ray Gonzales. “The sales tax revenue that goes into the general fund has been volatile recently and will probably continue for some time.”
Johnson said the sales tax revenues collected by the city just aren’t there like they were four or five years ago.
“We need to look at areas other the general fund to be able to fund projects such as the zoo,” he said. “There are occupation taxes and others sources we might be able to tap into. The zoo has been a huge tourism component for the entire Panhandle so I hope our support can continue.”