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.