? Bethlehem, NY | ? Courtesy of NextEra

Omaha experiences an average of 214 sunny days per year – nine more than the national average, according to Sperling’s Best Places. Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) is working to take advantage of them all.

Construction is getting underway on the utility’s first solar array (also called a solar garden or farm). The 35-acre span in Ft. Calhoun, Neb., will house an impressive collection of solar panels capable of producing a combined five megawatts of solar energy each year. That’s enough to power, on average, 750-1,000 homes.

Renewable “green” energy, with an emphasis on solar and wind, is a priority for OPPD.

“We expect to be over 40-percent renewable by the end of 2019,” says OPPD product specialist Tricia McKnight. “Our goal is to get to 50-percent.”

Tied to the array is OPPD’s community solar program, an opportunity for customers to subscribe to one or more shares of the energy produced. (Each share represents 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity.) In early May, OPPD was celebrating the fact the program had sold out.

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? Big Lake, MN | ? Courtesy of NextEra

“This is our first project doing solar, so we’re excited about it and we love that the community is excited about it as well,” McKnight says.

OPPD is contracting with NextEra to build and maintain the array, which is expected to be operational in mid-August, if not sooner. The research phase began about two years ago. OPPD reached out to and learned from fellow midwestern utilities Lincoln Electric System (LES) and Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), both of which have generated their own solar array successes.

McKnight says the OPPD Board is “very excited” about renewables: “I think we’re going to see a lot more solar and a lot more wind. That’s something that OPPD is focusing on.”

Did you know…

  • Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth. 173,000 terawatts strike the earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use.
  • Bell Laboratories built the first silicon solar cell, a precursor of all solar-powered devices, in 1954.
  • The amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased more than 23 times between 2007 and 2015, to an estimated 27.4 g.

— U.S. Department of Energy