When the Hoskins-to-Neligh 345,000-volt transmission line was being proposed a few years ago, Pierce County farmers Aaron and Ryan Zimmerman were not thrilled at first.
Like some of their neighbors, they weren’t sure about having high line wires on their property, but they understood it was for the greater good. Eventually, they decided to make the best of it.
“Basically we offered them (NPPD) the path of least resistance,” Aaron said. “We accommodated them.”
There were some neighbors who were irate and didn’t want it whatsoever. The proposal moved the brothers to research if there might be some way to take advantage of the situation — like making lemonade out of lemons.
Eventually the Zimmermans even offered to have the line moved north 100 feet entirely on their property. That was instead of sharing it with a bordering neighbor who didn’t want it whatsoever.
And now, a proposed substation is going to be built on their land.
“It’s beautiful country out here, but it’s sand and it’s tough to make a living off of it,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “For every situation, there’s got to be a silver lining.”
That silver lining proved to be having both brothers consider giving up farming and covering the land with solar panels. Several companies were interested.
“It’s contiguous. It’s flat. It’s right along a 345 KV transmission line. That will help keep the upgrade cost associated with getting an (energy) agreement in check,” Aaron Zimmerman said. “That’s what makes this really competitive.”
At this point, NextEra Energy does not have an agreement in place for the power to be purchased. Just like wind projects to move forward, a purchaser of the power such as Lincoln Electrical System or Google — which have purchased other green energy — must be secured for the project to move forward.
The 2,500 acres where the solar farm is proposed consists of all the land the Zimmermans own. Much of it has been in the family since the 1960s and is land used to grow crops, with center pivot irrigation.
The land is along the Willow Creek watershed. The solar opportunity will help reduce the problems associated with row crop farming.
The brothers said they plan to pull the pivots and sell them, then seal the wells.
“The plan is to establish native grasses and pollinator habitat,” Aaron Zimmerman said. “It’s just going to go back to the native prairie that it originally was.”
Ryan Zimmerman said the solar farm would feature what’s known as a single-axis tracker system. All the solar panels will be in rows and will follow the sun as it moves across the sky — like a sunflower, he said.
The panels will be about 6 to 8 feet off the ground, so they will be easy to mow underneath until the prairie is established, and any weeds get choked out. At their highest point, the solar panels will be about 12 feet tall.
The Zimmermans said they want to help the environment and be part of the nation’s overall energy solution.
“Utilities, they don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “Like we know, the wind doesn’t always blow. You have to have wind and solar as much as something else. No one system is a cure-all.”