Metal and wood windmills are as iconic to the Nebraska landscape as bison and tallgrass. While they certainly won’t disappear any time soon, solar wells are becoming more popular as durable and efficient alternatives.
Richard Egelhoff, Niobrara Valley Preserve Bison Manager, heard good things about them from other Sandhills land managers. “The solar panels are on the ground and easy to get to… you don’t have a tall windmill tower to climb to oil and repair,” he said.
A detailed price comparison sealed the deal. “The price was similar,” said Egelhoff, “and if you factor in repairs – we had a windstorm the other day and 7 or 8 windmills took a lot of damage – a couple of big repair bills make the solar wells even more attractive.” It depends, too, how close to water the well is located – it is, of course, not as expensive to put in a shallow well as a deep one.
The new solar well was installed on the far west side of the west bison pasture on September 26th. Egelhoff did not think the change would affect the bison at all. In fact, “it’s pretty silent. It’s quieter than a windmill.”
As far as its affect on the other wildlife, the change may provide some benefit. Because solar panels are at ground level rather than towering several feet in the air, smaller grassland birds will no longer have to fear birds of prey perching atop the windmill.
These and other variables will help Egelhoff and his coworkers make future decisions about replacements. “It’s only been a day,” said Egelhoff. “We’ll watch and see. We might get hooked on them.”
This well was funded by longtime NVP supporters/enthusiasts Barbi Hayes and Tom Bragg. "Sometimes I think the NVP is the forgotten treasure," says Hayes. "Those of us who love it, truly, deeply love it above any other area in the state. And we love it in the summer of 114-degree heat and the fall of a thousand sand burs. We have grouse, bison, deer, prairie dogs... a million turkeys... and bobcats and porcupines... and especially tiger beetles! Most of all, we have Doug, Richard, Tracey, and Mike! I believe in supporting all of this so it will continue in the future."
"The Niobrara Valley Preserve protects and makes available for education a unique Nebraska ecosystem crossroads that, unlike other of the state's natural ecosystems, retains the essence of its historic condition. We want to do what we can to be sure this resource is available for future generations," said Bragg.