Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) aimed to on learn the thoughts of its customers and gather input on a proposed solar project during focus groups held in Scottsbluff and Kearney this week.

The focus groups were held in  Scottsbluff on April 13 and Kearney on April 14.

“The focus groups went extremely well,” said Tim Arlt, NPPD retail general manager. “We’d like to thank participants who volunteered their time to share their thoughts. It’s important we get feedback from customers and hear what they had to say.”

Arlt said the sessions were enlightening for him. The moderator kept participants on task and structured the sessions in a way that walked them through NPPD’s plans to get the necessary feedback on the project.

“He handed out information and then gave them time to read and think about it,” Arlt said. “This technique was simple, but very effective.”

Community solar is a project that would be placed somewhere in the community somewhere. Multiple individuals in the community can participate. It wouldn’t be on rooftops. It would be in a central location, ideally positioned to get biggest benefit from the sun. From a community solar perspective, customers would avoid upfront costs, estimated at $24,000, insurance maintenance and housing covenants. Homeowners and renters are eligible for the program. The pilot project for Scottsbluff would involve 20 homes to start.

“This is a 100 kWh project,” Arlt said. “It’s an initial small step so both NPPD and the city (of Scottsbluff) can learn. It by no means displaces anything of any magnitude.”

During the focus groups, customers viewed and discussed a large presentation, both in detail and scope, from a third-party moderator. Over the course of two hours at each session, NPPD wanted to learn what their customers were thinking and how to make the project better while fulfilling their needs.

“One takeaway from this all was an awareness of education that, for the most part, both communities didn’t have a lot of understanding on solar,” Arlt said. “What can we do now is to educate and promote that there are other sources of energy and present some complications or issues to getting different types.”

One item NPPD learned at the focus groups is that often they think everyone understands their terminology.

“We have a lot of work to do with feedback we heard,” Arlt said.

Arlt and Brenda Sanne, from the NPPD corporate communications office, said it was good to hear feedback about any sensitivities customers would have in relation to solar energy. Many didn’t understand how solar power works within the proposed project.

“Solar energy within the community will be one aspect of our diverse portfolio NPPD uses to serve their community,” Sanne said. “The program is currently slated to purchase up to 80 percent of what they use, and the remainder is NPPD reserve.”

The report from the moderators is expected within the next two weeks. NPPD will then look at the results, taking into consideration advice from the moderator and input from the community. The next step would be to modify program concepts based on feedback from customers, share the information with the board, have the board review and approve the program and then return to the communities to inform them of how the program will work in conjunction with city officials.

Those who participated in the program will see a $75 credit on their electric bill.

“We thought it was worth their time and it was appropriate to give them a break,” Arlt said.

NPPD plans to have their community solar project commercially operating by Jan. 1, 2017.

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