For years, farmers have lived by a motto “to make hay while the sun shines.” In practical terms, it means to take advantage of sunny skies to put up hay because wet hay is hard to handle and will become moldy. In practical terms, it means to take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself.
Luckily in Nebraska, the sun shines a lot. And thanks to some forward thinking by some Pierce County brothers, they look to be making hay on their sandy soil through the fastest growing renewable energy — solar. But the story of how it happens is just as remarkable.
To hear Aaron and Ryan Zimmerman discuss it is inspiring. They and other farmers were less than enthusiastic when the Hoskins-to-Neligh 345,000-volt transmission line was being proposed a few years ago. Eventually, they accepted it, believing in the greater good and decided to make the best of it.
It also motivated the brothers to research if there might be some way to take advantage of the situation — like making lemonade out of lemons.
“It’s beautiful country out here, but it’s sand and it’s tough to make a living off of it,” Ryan Zimmerman told the Daily News. “For every situation, there’s got to be a silver lining.”
And sure enough, the brothers found a silver lining. Through research, they discovered they might have an ideal spot for a solar farm thanks in part to the new transmission line. Several companies were interested.
Eventually, the Zimmermans decided to go with NextEra Energy of Juno Beach, Florida. In part, the company already has extensive solar experience and has completed massive green energy projects, such as the Sholes Wind Farm in nearby Wayne County.
When fully operational, the Goldenrod Solar Project is projected to generate 443 megawatts of electricity. That’s expected to produce enough energy to power five cities the size of Norfolk.
There’s more to like, including an estimated $1.75 million in new tax revenues for Pierce County every year, 2,500 acres of fertilizer and other chemicals removed from the Willow Creek watershed, restoration of land to native grasses and further diversification of the nation’s energy supply.
And there are other solar projects emerging, including three smaller solar farms generating a total of about 7 MW for the Elkhorn Rural Public Power District in Madison and Antelope counties.
In some ways, it’s fitting. The state once known as the Great American Desert may someday be known for its solar energy as projects like this and other smaller projects continue to develop.