Resistance to proposed oil pipelines comes in many forms: Speaking up at local meetings, court filings contesting eminent domain, and physically occupying native lands, such as the protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux.
More recently, in Nebraska, the resistance has taken a different form. Since last July, installations of rectangular solar panels have sprung up among the corn and other plantings on two Nebraska farms, replacing diesel fuel to cleanly and quietly power their irrigation systems and other farm operations.
Along with another installation planned for this month, Solar XL, a project sponsored by Bold Nebraska, 350.org, Indigenous Environmental Network, CREDO, and Oil Change International, has been helping Nebraska landowners install solar power on their lands, which fall along the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The contrast between the lush, peaceful lands where the solar panels sit and the dirty oil to be transported through the pipeline couldn’t be more striking — especially in view of the recent oil leak on an already-existing portion of the pipeline.
As Bold Nebraska notes on its website,
“If Keystone XL is approved, TransCanada would have to tear down clean and locally-produced energy to make way for its dirty and foreign tarsands.”
By showing communities what solar power looks like, these installations will become a rallying point for resisting the pipeline — should it come to pass. In a recent email, Mark Hefflinger, Digital and Communications Director of Bold Nebraska explained that Solar XL’s strategy
“… is to build the solution in the path of the problem. Nebraskans want clean energy like solar and wind, not a foreign tarsands export pipeline that threatens our agricultural land, the Ogallala aquifer we depend on for drinking and irrigation, and fragile soil in the Sandhills.”
Landowner Byron “Stix” Steskal, installed solar panels on his land this past September as part of the Solar XL project. At the time, he told the Wisconsin Gazette,
“We’re proud to be able to provide more clean solar energy to the Nebraska grid while resisting the KXL pipeline that threatens our land, water and livelihoods.
We’ll be adding to the over 200 wind turbines you can see on the horizon to the east of our farm, and to the soybeans we grow that become soy diesel and our corn that becomes ethanol — all local sources of renewable energy for Nebraska that TransCanada’s tarsands export pipeline would never provide.”
According to a recent video put out by Bold Nebraska, the Nebraska solar installations join others along the pipeline’s route in North and South Dakota. In that video, Joye Braun from the Indigenous Environmental Network lays out a challenge,
“Is America ready to see people lock down to solar energy? Because that’s a real possibility.”
America had better be ready: The pipeline may provide permanent profits for TransCanada, but it will create a measly 35 or so permanent jobs. Compare that to the data contained in the 2017 US Energy and Jobs Report, which finds that solar technology employed 43 percent of the electric power generation workforce in 2016 — almost twice the 22 percent employed by coal, oil, and gas technologies combined.
As of this writing, the Keystone XL pipline’s route is currently in flux, and a recent decision by the Nebraska Public Service Commission (NPSC) requires TransCanada to use an alternate route. According to a statement by its President and CEO, Russ Girling, TransCanada is now assessing how the NPSC’s ruling “…would impact the cost and schedule of the project.”
According to Hefflinger,
“One of the Solar XL installations is no longer on the route (Carlson family, Silver Creek, NE). Our #NoKXL Solar Barn in Bradshaw, NE is also no longer on the route — and while we’re happy that these clean energy projects are protected for the moment, we still can’t predict what may happen in the courts with the NPSC’s ruling on the route.”
But, he says, the Steskal family farm in Atkinson, Nebraska and a farm in Naper, Nebraska, where an installation is planned for December, remain in the pipeline’s path. He adds that there are other solar installations in the way of the pipeline on a family farm in Neligh, Nebraska,
Bold Nebraska is currently fundraising to build two more Solar XL installations for a total of five sites inside the KXL route, with one ideally in the new “mainline/alternate” route. Meanwhile, Hefflinger writes,
“We don’t believe there will ever be construction on Keystone XL. The obstacles just placed in TransCanada’s path by the NPSC, the legal challenges from landowners fighting eminent domain, and the federal lawsuit filed by Bold and other groups challenging Trump’s rubber-stamp of the federal permit mean the company may very well opt to cut their losses and abandon the project. But should construction ever come to Nebraska, we expect to see creative resistance around these focal points.”
Photos via Bold Nebraska