YORK COUNTY – This week, representatives from the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) met with the York County Commissioners to talk about the entity’s recent acquisition of the K-Junction Solar Project by McCool Junction.
“As a public utility, we actively respond to the growing energy needs of our customers, but we’re always looking for better ways to serve our communities and stakeholders,” said Brad Underwood, vice-president of OPPD systems transformations. “That’s why OPPD has acquired rights to the potential K-Junction Solar Project from EDF Renewables North America.”
Underwood said further, on behalf of the public power district, “OPPD’s interest in acquiring this project does not guarantee that construction or other activities will being immediately. Rather, it will allow us to assess the viability of the opportunity and determine necessary next steps. We are committed to conducting thorough due diligence, including evaluating technical feasibility, financial considerations, environmental constraints and community impacts. This process will support informed decisions that align with our long-term goals and core value of honoring the communities we serve and in which we operate.”
He stressed several times that the project is very much still in the infancy stage.
What does this acquisition mean? OPPD says it acquired the K-Junction Solar project, including the rights and agreements affiliated with it. Perennial Public Power District would continue to serve local customers while OPPD would collaborate with others to deliver power to the energy grid that serves all of Nebraska through the Southwest Power Pool. The earliest anticipated commercial operating date would some time in 2027. EDF has already obtained interconnection approval from SPP, which he said is a significant benefit that OPPD “would be remiss to not pursue on behalf of all Nebraskans.”
Underwood said OPPD has been working with Saunders County to advance solar, “and we’ve learned a lot working there and with our counties. We will share that information as we continue our discussions here. Yes, we acquired the entity, bought the land leases and bought the ability to connect to the transmission system. This has been an important acquisition for us. So the first thing we did is come to you to say we bought it. It shows our transparency. This would be a 310-megawatt facility on 2,800 acres. The project is currently in its infancy and we are doing our technical due diligence and working on our community conversations to find out how the community feels – are they excited or concerned?
“We are very happy to be here and we understand York County is reviewing its zoning regulations,” Underwood continued. “That is a complicated process and we want to be a resource for the community. We can help the county orient itself with what’s happening as we go along. All public power districts work well together, we have extraordinary coordination. What we are proposing is interconnecting with the system.
“One lesson we’ve learned is the tax payments are significant for communities, Saunders County has seen great benefits,” Underwood said. “We know it’s important to the community.”
“We have a fair amount of people here at this meeting, and they would appreciate Q&A time with a meeting or an event in the future, with you,” said Commissioner Chairman Randy Obermier. “I highly recommend that happens in the near future. One thing I know will be brought up, because OPPD is a public power district, is if you will use the power of eminent domain. Will that be out there for you to use? Because that scares people and it doesn’t go over well.”
“Regarding eminent domain, landowner rights are at the center of the conversation,” Underwood responded. “This project involves willing landowners who are deciding what they want to do with their land. Eminent domain does not factor into this conversation because these are willing leases. And in general, 97% of the time we don’t use eminent domain when acquiring easements, leases,” for projects.
Commissioner Woody Ziegler asked about the tax payments Underwood mentioned earlier, asking if those would change if OPPD owned the project, as a public power entity.
Underwood said the proposed project at this point includes a third party operating the solar field. “There has been no change in how the project has been proposed. It is very early and that is a challenge with being transparent quickly, in that we don’t have all the answers to the questions right now.”
“If OPPD should decide to own and operate, the name plate tax would go away, correct?” asked Commissioner Daniel Grotz.
Underwood said yes, that would be the case, but the plan is still to have a third party operator although OPPD, at this immediate moment, is the only entity involved.
“And as far as the landowners who already entered agreements, some have said they have buyer’s remorse, if you will,” Grotz added. “Has any thought been given to, if a landowner now wishes they hadn’t signed up, could they be allowed to opt out?”
“I’m not aware of those types of conversations,” Underwood said, “but if that were the case, we’d sit down with them and see where that goes.”
“Earlier, you said it would be a 310-megawatt facility,” Grotz said. “And some of the discussions that have been held, as the county works on regulations, has been if those set-backs shrink the amont of land you’ve leased and you want more, if you needed extra land and don’t have the willing landowners, would eminent domain be something you could use if you wanted or would you commit to not utilize it?”
“We have to evaluate if (regulations) shrink the size of the facility, we’d have to replace it with something,” Underwood said. “We do not anticipate using eminent domain because we have willing landowners and we want to have community conversations.”
“So the landowners would pay the real estate taxes?” asked Commissioner Stan Boehr.
Underwood replied that this has always been the case because the ownership of the land will not change.
“What about the taxes on the equipment that’s on the land?” Boehr asked further.
“The name plate tax would not be required for OPPD, but if a third party, as proposed, operated it, that entity would pay that tax,” Underwood said.
“Right now, OPPD is the standalone on this project, correct?” said Obermier.
“We have constant coordination and conversations about partnerships,” Underwood said. “I’m sure our teams are already talking, but right now we are the only owners.
“We will be out here as much as you will have us,” Underwood told the county board members. “We have learned to go slow and methodical through the zoning process and we hope to be as much help to the county as we can.”
“The people we represent really need to have conversations with you and I really, again, encourage you to do so,” Obermier said.
Ziegler asked about the benefits to the county, as OPPD is a public entity. Underwood said the tax and investment benefits to the community would remain the same as before as they are still proposing a third party is the operator of the solar field. “There would be benefits to the community, no change in that.”
OPPD says the benefits will include power for approximately 59,000 average homes; an estimated local construction impact of $180-plus million; and approximately 300 construction jobs – plus the added tax revenue (when a third party is the operator).
OPPD’s official statement on the project, from Javier Fernandez, OPPD president and CEO, says, “This is an exciting venture for OPPD, our customers and York County. We are looking forward to collaborating with the county and local communities on an effort that will not only bring local benefits, but also help meet the growing energy needs of all Nebraskans.”
While this week’s conversation with the commissioners ended at that point, it will certainly not be the last of the discussion as this process will be ongoing for a considerable amount of time.
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