UNK makes move to solar energy with NPPD, SoCore agreement

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KEARNEY, Neb. -- The University of Nebraska at Kearney soon will get 25 percent of its electrical energy from the new $11 million solar park being built in Kearney.

In an effort to make campus more sustainable, UNK is purchasing 51 percent – or about 3,600 shares – of the solar capacity available from Nebraska Public Power District and SoCore Energy.

“We’re a significant user of energy, so it makes sense to have sustainable practices. Utilizing solar energy fits in with our goal to make sustainability a priority,” said Jon Watts, UNK’s vice chancellor of business and finance.

“We want to be a leader in sustainability. It’s good for campus and the community, and it’s good for students.”

The commitment makes UNK the largest participant in an NPPD solar-powered generation facility. NPPD purchases the solar electricity from SoCore and offers it at cost to residential and commercial customers.
“Establishing utility-scale solar in the immediate Kearney area gives NPPD an edge in supplying local renewable energy directly to our customers who, in turn, benefit from the environmental attributes that renewable resources provide,” said Stan Clouse, Kearney mayor and account manager for NPPD.

“UNK, City of Kearney, NPPD and SoCore are excited to share in this opportunity to support one another and our environment.”

Chicago-based SoCore is building the solar energy park on 53 acres in northeast Kearney. The 5.8-megawatt solar energy array is located in the city’s Tech oNE Crossing technology park at 56th Street and Antelope Avenue.

Construction began this summer, and UNK is expected to start receiving its solar energy from NPPD in February 2018.

“The relationship between UNK and Kearney community has always been strong, and this is another partnership opportunity we are able to capitalize on,” said Clouse.

Purchasing solar energy will decrease UNK’s electrical costs over time, Watts said. Over the long-term, escalation of NPPD base rates could surpass the fixed solar rate associated with the 25-year solar agreement with the city. City officials believe NPPD’s base rates will eventually surpass the solar rate.

UNK, which spends $1.9 million a year on electricity, expects to save more than $250,000 over the next 25 years of the contract.

UNK SUSTAINABILITY PLAN
Purchasing solar energy fits in with UNK’s long-term plan to improve its environmental impact. UNK rolled out a sustainability plan last year.
UNK is beginning to work towards reducing emissions by 13 percent, increasing the recycling rate to 50 percent, reducing energy consumption by 25 percent, reducing water consumption by 15 percent, making the campus 75-percent commute sustainable and using 50-percent green purchasing by 2025.

By 2050, UNK plans to be 100-percent climate neutral and have a 90-percent recycling rate.

Some of the steps UNK has taken or will take to meet its goals include reducing the number of UNK-owned IT devices on campus, installing more water efficient irrigation heads, improving recycling efforts through education, installing LED lighting across campus, and incorporating sustainable mobility between University Village and the main campus.
UNK established a sustainability committee in 2009. Some of the sustainability efforts implemented since then include Dining Services transitioning to trayless dining, installation of 21 water bottle refill stations, an upgraded central utility plant, elimination of most fluorescent lighting throughout campus, overhaul of the recycling program, and implementation of a bicycle sharing program and the Enterprise CarShare program.