A recent major hail storm in western Nebraska took an entire solar farm out of commission, forcing the local community to turn back to traditional power sources, local officials said.
The so-called Community Solar Project – a 4.4 megawatt solar field comprised of 14,000 solar panels and located in Scottsbluff, Nebraska – is not currently operating and will remain offline until repairs are completed, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) confirmed to Fox News Digital. NPPD, the state-owned public utility, and energy firm GenPro Energy Solutions developed the project in 2020.
“The solar complex was destroyed by hail,” Scottsbluff City Manager Kevin Spencer said in an interview. “They’re assessing the damage, but it certainly looks destroyed to me.”
“I don’t think we’re ready to give up on solar power,” Spencer added. “It was our understanding that these solar panels were at least hail resistant. This hail was extreme, you know, the size and probably the speed of it. So, I don’t know that we would give up on it just yet.”
Last week, a tornado and storm with baseball-size hail hit the region, causing widespread damage, regional Emergency Management Director Tim Newman told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald on Saturday. Newman reportedly toured the damage with a meteorologist from the National Weather Service and estimated damage to be worth as much as $1 million.
GenPro Energy Solutions CEO Dwight Patterson said leaders from his company were planning to meet with the owners and insurance adjusters of the solar farm later Thursday to assess the extent of the damage the storm had on the project.
“Severe weather, like the storm that struck Scottsbluff, is a good example of why renewable energy providers and local electric utilities benefit from strong partnerships,” Patterson told Fox News Digital. “Forces that are sometimes out of our control could impact critical electric power delivery to homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure.”
“We believe in an all-of-the-above approach to energy production in the U.S. as the best path forward, with smart collaboration with all energy providers and an eye on emerging technologies that will lead to resilient, secure and efficient electricity for everyone,” he said.
Patterson added that the Scottsbluff Community Solar Project used top-tier solar panels that are able to withstand most hail storms. However, he said, while it is unlikely that hail storms will damage the panels, it always remains possible.
Jeremy Anderson, the chief construction officer of GenPro Energy Solutions, said the hail storm did considerable damage to the solar panels but that other components of the system “may be only superficially damaged or not damaged at all.”
In addition, a spokesperson for NPPD said the region hasn’t experienced any issues with power supplies.
“NPPD is currently working with the solar developer that owns and operates the project,” NPPD spokesperson Grant Otten told Fox News Digital. “The developer is assessing the damage and determining next steps and a timeline for equipment repairs or replacement.”
“The Scottsbluff Community Solar facility is relatively small compared to the rest of NPPD’s generation resources,” he wrote. “Our largest generation resource is Gerald Gentleman Station in Sutherland, NE, which is a 1,365 MW coal plant. Our second largest resource is Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, NE which is an 800 MW Nuclear plant.”
Otten noted that the project is part of the statewide community solar program, which are built in partnership with communities and provide solar energy for that specific community.