A Step Forward for Solar in the Star City

LES putting clean power at customers’ fingertips through Virtual Net Metering, paperless billing programs.

It’s no surprise that with Lincoln Electric System’s Community Solar Facility opening last year, the area’s electric utility is shedding more light on solar power — and its possibilities — in 2017.

LES had a lot to celebrate during its 50th year of service in 2016, including the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new solar array west of town that became a reality thanks to customer contributions through its SunShares program. Customers could choose to donate a few dollars on their monthly bill, and in September 2016, their generosity helped bring Nebraska’s first utility-scale solar installation to life.

“LES’ SunShares project provided all LES customers an affordable opportunity to be involved in the development of solar-generated electricity,” said LES CEO Kevin Wailes. “We thank the SunShares participants and solar supporters for helping bring more solar energy to the Lincoln area.”

The nearly 5-megawatt Community Solar Facility, located at Northwest 75th and West Holdrege streets, is one of the largest arrays of its kind in the region, using 15,333 solar panels to produce enough energy to power 900 typical homes in Lincoln. The project was developed by Enerparc, and LES contracted for all energy produced by the facility. When the solar facility went online in June 2016, more than 1,200 residential and business customers had voluntarily contributed funds through SunShares to help support a portion of the facility.

To date, the array has generated 9.75 gigawatt-hours of alternating current energy. According to Enerparc’s live dashboard of the facility, that clean power generation equates to offsetting 11.7 million pounds of carbon, nearly 290,000 gallons of gas and saves the environment from 6.1 million miles of vehicle emissions. 

And customers have been able to take advantage of that power—without having to install solar technology on their own property.

Businesses and families alike have taken advantage of LES’ Virtual Net Metering program launched in January 2017.

“Renewable energy is already one-third of how LES produces power,” LES Resource & Transmission Planning Manager Scott Benson told the American Public Power Association. “We are excited to offer this new opportunity to customers who want to become more invested in solar energy.”

Available to Residential, General Service and Heating Service customers, Virtual Net Metering gives customers the power to benefit from the sun’s energy without having to install and maintain their own solar panels. Program participants can invest in “virtual” solar panels, representing a portion of the LES community solar facility’s output, which results in a credit on their monthly bill. With 2017 pricing, each virtual panel requires a one-time $685 enrollment fee. The bill credit correlates to the customer’s level of investment and the actual energy production of the solar facility, meaning that over the 20-year life of the program, customers could recoup their initial investment.

“For a residential customer, LES is estimating that the total credit over the first year will be $38 per virtual panel,” Benson said. “Based on an initial investment of $685 per virtual panel, that equates to a simple payback of about 18 years if you assume LES’ rates don’t change over that period.”

Keeping its eyes on the future led LES to come up with another creative opportunity for customers that puts convenience and more clean energy just a few clicks away.

Unveiled at the Sustainable Living Festival July 29 in The Railyard, the LES Paperless Billing campaign helps customers take advantage of the utility’s revamped online bill-pay system. By opting out of printed statements, customers can opt in to a greener future for the city. 

By clicking the paperless billing enrollment button in their account dashboard, customers can join thousands of fellow ratepayers helping LES reduce paper waste. The savings gained from printing less will be put toward supporting community efforts to plant more trees and more solar energy in our service area. The benefit to customers is three-fold:

  • More convenience for customers. No more misplacing their bill, no more paper waste and no more hassle. Paying their LES bill is easier with online statements in the new payment portal, which delivers real-time notifications via text or email, better navigation and recurring payment options.
  • More trees for Lincoln. A portion of the savings from paperless enrollments will help support restoring endangered tree populations in public parks. LES will work with community partners to identify areas of need and help restore healthy, diverse tree populations around the city.
  • More solar. The other portion of the savings will help bring the power of the sun to ground level. With new solar-powered charging stations for mobile devices, Lincolnites will find clean power at their fingertips.

The more customers converting to paperless billing, the more LES will do for the community with the savings.

Customers can sign in to the LES payment portal and make the switch in just a few simple steps.

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