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JenREES 5/8/22

Alfalfa weevil larvae.

Alfalfa Weevil should be scouted in alfalfa now. I have sweep nets that can be borrowed from the Extension office if you’d like. Otherwise, just go to different spots in the field and look for small holes on the newest leaflets near the stem tips. The larvae are small, green, and have black heads with a white stripe down the back. During the heat of the day, they’re often found near the crowns of plants and they curl into a C-shape when touched. To determine economic threshold, cut 10 alfalfa stems at ground level and shake the larvae off the stems by beating them off the sides into a bucket. The economic threshold right now is right around 1.5-2 larvae per stem. More info. here: https://go.unl.edu/tpkz.

K-Junction Public Forum: I’m grateful for the opportunity that EDF Renewables is allowing for a public forum in addition to their second open house regarding the proposed solar farm this Wednesday, May 11 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Stone Creek in McCool Junction. Because we’re to be impartial as Extension faculty, I was asked to serve as the moderator for the evening. I just wanted to share a little about this, and also felt it was important to share how I’m choosing to moderate the event so it’s not a surprise that evening.

As I’ve listened to various conversations and perspectives, it just seems like people need the opportunity to share their viewpoints publicly and ask their questions so all can hear the same answers provided. Because of this, a few of us expressed concern to EDF to allow for a public forum. EDF chose to change the open house format to a blended one of both display boards and the forum and I’m grateful for that. While public forums are difficult, I feel there can be some healing that occurs in just being heard, despite differences of opinion, and that’s my hope and prayer.

As I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of landowners, while my family doesn’t own land in the area of the proposed solar farm, if we were in this situation, our decision would be based on our specific goals and plans for our farm. But our goals may not be the same as our neighbors. Thus, each landowner has to make decisions based on the goals and values that fits his/her family’s specific situation. The difficulty can be for those caught in the middle who don’t get to make that choice, such as neighbors, community members, and those whose jobs also support agriculture in some way.

As I’ve listened, the theme I continue to hear and sense, is the lack of information for a few years that occurred. I think that’s the greater underlying frustration. I’ll admit, that was a frustration to me as I felt I let landowners down by not knowing, thus didn’t have resources available for them to make informed decisions and to help with negotiating contracts. But I had to move past that to what I could do now. While hard, we can’t change the past. We can choose how we face the present and future doing our best to listen to each other and get answers to the questions we have. This public forum will hopefully allow an opportunity to do this. I think it also helps to remember we’re all just people. Regardless of which side a person is on, the person is not the enemy.

Rural Nebraskans are known for being respectful. I watched that during the first open house when differences of perspective were expressed in conversations. I only saw respectful conversation and discourse in addition to the passion for one’s position/perspectives. That’s what I would ask for this Wednesday evening as well.

In the public forum, there will be opportunity for sharing via a microphone and, for those who prefer not to speak, also via written questions. Each person will be given 3 minutes to speak followed by 3 minutes for EDF representatives to respond. I will make every attempt to get to everyone’s questions in the time we have. While it may be hard not to ask follow-up questions, I’m going to ask that everyone who desires has the opportunity to speak before anyone speaks twice. There will be additional opportunities to speak with EDF representatives following the public forum.

3/13/22

Vegetative Management Considerations: This week’s article is co-written by John Hay, Extension Energy Educator and myself. Vegetative management is an important part of solar. The land below the solar panels will need to be maintained in some way. Lately, more people are looking at ways to complement vegetative management with solar to ease the land use conflict and bring more value to the land beneath solar production.

We asked several questions of the EDF Renewable representatives the night of the public informational forum. The plan from them for the time being appeared to be focused on mowing the grass below the solar panels. There seemed to be some openness to learning more about options beyond mowed grass. From the EDF K-Junction FAQ site, there is a link to a news article explaining how solar, cattle, and crops can work together: https://www.edf-re.com/project/k-junction-solar/faq/.

Regardless of what the vegetation is, should the project go through, someone will need to manage the vegetation. We were told that often 5-6 outside contractors are hired. We suggested should some local people currently be interested in this, it could provide an opportunity for them to obtain additional income or off-set a very small portion of the income lost in the ag community beyond landowners.

Grazing Options: The reality of cattle grazing is not good with solar unless the panels are elevated to a height of at least 7’ and conduit is buried underground. Sheep and free-range chickens could be options. We currently don’t have that scale of sheep/free-range chicken production in the County area. It potentially could be another income source should the project go through and a few choose to pursue this. There is an American Solar Grazing Association which is member-driven and members ask questions, conduct research, and share questions/answers with each other: https://solargrazing.org/.

Agrivoltaics is the growing of harvestable crops below the solar panels. The crops wouldn’t include traditional corn and soybeans. They could include different grasses for grazing, alfalfa, and small equipment haying (depending on panel height and spacing). They could include pollinator species. Small acres (1-10 acres or so per quarter) could include specialty crops such as hops, grapes, vegetables, fruits, woody florals. For those situations, it would entail elevating the solar panels. There’s been some research on incorporating different types of vegetable and flower production in how the plants are arranged for dealing with sun/shade at different times of the day. This resource shares more about agrivoltaics:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7mN1ks0hyUneed.

Wells: There’s been a number of concerns about the wells on these irrigated pieces of land. Specific questions regarding this can be directed to the NRD. Grazing and/or use for harvestable crops under the solar array could necessitate a well.

Vegetative Screenings are the use of plants as a screen to obstruct the view of the solar panels. At the public informational meeting, we were told that landowners and neighbors would need to request this. This is something that can be written into contracts.

The above options/considerations require cooperation of the solar developer and may need changes in system design regarding the solar panel height and the ability for people to enter the solar field. Solar farms are fenced and have limited access due to electrical risk. These risks must be addressed before agrivoltaic or grazing options are possible. For vegetative management regarding vegetative screenings, grass or pollinator species, should the project move forward, we’d recommend they be established prior to construction to aid in success of their establishment.

Farm Base Acres: In talking with Kathy Anderson with the State FSA office, it’s hard to know exactly what will happen to base acres depending on how the contracts are written. It’s a possibility of a permanent loss of base acres, ultimately dependent upon how many acres of cropland there is and how many base acres were assigned to each farm. Each situation will be farm by farm. If the farm had full base (80 ac crop ground and 80 ac base), and 60 acres were being used for solar, 60 base acres of solar would be removed from that total leaving 20 base acres. If there isn’t full base (80 ac crop ground and 60 acres of base), the gap of 20 “free acres” would be put towards the acres in solar and the base would be reduced to 20 acres. If the ground was in CRP, contracts with solar are not allowed. Thus, one needs to ask the company to pay back the CRP contract if they want a CRP parcel.

JenREES 3/6/22

Estate Planning Workshop: A reminder of the estate planning workshop to be held on March 8th from 1:30-4 p.m. at Harvest Hall at the Seward Co. Fairgrounds (location changed). Even if you haven’t RSVP, feel free to still attend if you’re interested.

Seward County Ag Banquet: The 54th Annual Kiwanis Club of Seward Ag Recognition Banquet will be held on Monday, March 21 at the Seward County Fairgrounds. A social with wine, cheese, and sausage will be at 5:30 p.m. with prime rib dinner at 6:30 p.m. To reserve seats, call Shelly at 402-643-3636.

Proposed York Co. Solar Farm: I’m grateful for the public informational meeting in McCool Junction that was held by EDF Renewables in February. It’s important that people can gather and share. I’ve been asked about Extension’s role; it’s to listen, provide educational resources, and share perspectives regarding concerns and considerations. Thus, my focus of this week’s article in regards to some perspectives and considerations in relation to contracts. I plan to share on vegetative management and potential economics next week with my colleague, John Hay, Extension Energy Educator.

The big-picture difficulty about solar and wind energy in rural America is the fact that this is ultimately a land-use conflict. It’s a conflict between land used by those who make their livelihoods from farming/grazing/haying the land and land used by those who are looking at a future of renewable energy. The conflict also involves the changing landscape. With wind, the large turbines and blinking lights can be seen from a distance in addition to seen/heard by those living around them. On the land use side, 1-2 acres of land per turbine and access road is removed allowing the remaining land to be farmed. With utility scale solar, it’s not vertically visual from a distance, but changes the landscape for those who live around it. On the land use side, for a proposed 5000 acre utility scale solar farm such as this York Co. one, all 5000 acres would be taken out of typical farming production. The challenge with land-use conflicts is determining if the varying viewpoints can come together in some way or not as families, neighbors, and communities are all impacted.

As I’ve listened, the discussion isn’t so much about solar in general, but the size/scope of this proposed project and potential impacts locally. For perspective, the solar farm on the north side of the interstate west of Lincoln is 30 acres. It is a single-axis system, meaning the panels rotate as the sun changes direction during the day, similar in concept to what is proposed. The display board images at the informational meeting showed fixed axis systems not representative of what is being proposed.

Contracts: Some have chosen to sign contracts as it provided a consistent payment, provided a way to keep land in a family when there isn’t an heir to work the land, or for other personal reasons. Some have chosen not to sign because the land is their livelihood, they’re concerned about the future impacts to other aspects of the ag and local economies, or for other personal reasons. It’s important to remember there’s not necessarily a right or wrong for ‘why or why not’ regarding signing contracts, and the ‘why’ for each is based on individual/family goals and values. However, there definitely are things that need to be considered prior to signing these long-term contracts in order to ensure a fair contract and protection for the landowner.

First, for those on the fence, while you most likely feel pressure from both sides, your decision needs to be based on what aligns with your goals and values. Take the time to review and negotiate these contracts and always know that saying “no” is an option. We recommend you have an attorney who specializes in wind/solar energy review the contact. Extension has recommendations from who we’ve worked with if you’re interested. Specifically, these contracts need to include: liability, indemnification (should be insured under the company), list a maximum percent drop of acres, decommissioning, and consider adding “most favored nation” to contracts to allow for the best payment and terms. There’s vegetative management things I’ll cover next week. A group of landowners can work together with an attorney to negotiate the best contract with a company; for example, landowners within the Saline Co. windfarm did this.

Resources: This resource contains a checklist of items for contracts to discuss with the company and an attorney: https://farmoffice.osu.edu/sites/aglaw/files/site-library/Farmland_Owner%27s_Guide_to_Solar_Leasing.pdf. John Hay’s website contains more information on solar lease considerations for landowners: https://go.unl.edu/2xch. The following resource is a webinar recording on land use conflicts-wind/solar: https://uada.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=b2d87be8-6d94-48e3-a8c7-ae220131e443.




Solar Energy in Ag

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