KEARNEY — Joe Johnson said he was within about two weeks of installing solar panels at his rural Kearney house when he decided to obtain a permit, but he discovered Buffalo County has no rules to regulate the process.
“There are eight arrays in Buffalo County, and none have applied for a permit, and there have been zero complaints,” Johnson told the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
The county board had planned to discuss codes to govern solar installations in Buffalo County, but tabled action on a proposal from Deputy County Attorney Andrew Hoffmeister and the Buffalo County Zoning Board after hearing from Johnson.
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Hoffmeister said he had contacted Keith County officials in Ogallala and patterned a proposed solar energy system ordinance for Buffalo County after theirs.
“We need to have a policy and then see how people react to it,” Hoffmeister told the county board.
He said Pleasanton Public Schools’ wind turbine currently is Buffalo County’s largest alternative energy generator besides the 55-acre SoCore Energy solar farm at Tech oNE Crossing in northeast Kearney that can generate about 5 percent of Kearney’s energy needs.
Hoffmeister said solar energy systems are turning up everywhere. He continued to say that some people use panels to charge the batteries to lift their boats out of the water while others are going big, tapping the sun to supply power for houses and farm operations.
Hoffmeister said corporations are scouting locations for large-scale solar farms, just as companies have hunted locations for wind turbines.
“Solar farms are coming, and people are being asked about them,” Hoffmeister told the commissioners.
After Hoffmeister’s presentation, Johnson suggested that the proposal based on Keith County’s policy has “a lot of arbitrary numbers” and “jumps off the deep end.”
He suggested that Buffalo County table Hoffmeister’s proposed rules and instead discuss a strategy on solar installations with “partners,” including Nebraska Public Power District, Dawson Public Power District (which serves rural Buffalo County), the Nebraska Energy Office, Nebraska Fire Marshal and the owners of current solar installations.
Johnson and his family live close to the Elks Country Club northeast of Kearney. He said as the parent of boys “who leave about every light on in the house,” he is interested in the money-saving potential of a solar array. He went ahead with his installation, which is interconnected with Dawson Public Power District’s electrical system.
An employee of the Olsson engineering firm in Kearney, Johnson said he’s not an environmental zealot, just someone who wants Buffalo County to take the right approach on solar power. He offered his help free to draft Buffalo County’s rules.
“My goal is to have a good piece of legislation,” Johnson said.
The county board followed Johnson’s advice and voted 6-0 to table solar power discussions until Nov. 12.