How Regenerative Design Boosts Local Impacts at Turkey Creek Solar Ranch

“We’re showing that we can design and construct solar projects in alignment with nature, as well as managing them to mimic what nature does.”

“I’m out on our properties or thinking about our properties every day, looking at how we can do things differently to restore natural ecosystems and increase our positive impacts on our local communities” said Loran Shallenberger, Regenerative Energy® Project Manager for Silicon Ranch. “We’re showing that we can design and construct solar projects in alignment with nature, as well as managing them to mimic what nature does.”

Shallenberger, who has seven years’ experience in regenerative land management, joined Silicon Ranch just six months ago to help manage the company’s Regenerative Energy® projects and develop the platform. A unique, holistic approach to agrivoltaics, Regenerative Energy® co-locates clean solar energy generation and climate-smart regenerative agriculture, keeping land in agricultural production. 

The platform provides the solar industry with the opportunity to play roles in addressing climate change beyond the already significant role of reducing carbon emissions through low-carbon energy production. Regenerative Energy®’s integration of animal impact and other holistic land management practices can make the industry synonymous with carbon sequestration—putting atmospheric carbon back in the soil-where it belongs—as well as low-carbon energy production.

And the platform’s implementation of regenerative design further boosts the industry’s climate action potential. Employing design and construction as beneficial forces can actively restore natural systems and contribute positive impacts to local communities and ecosystems. 

How solar projects are designed and constructed matters

While current standard industry design and construction practices may do no harm, they can introduce negative impacts through contributions to landfill waste, soil compaction, and erosion. 

Incorporating regenerative design and construction helps move the industry beyond doing no harm or minimizing negative impacts to doing good—achieving net positive impacts. It creates the opportunity for new supply chains, material conversions, and increased availability of resources for future projects.

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Shallenberger and Silicon Ranch’s Director of Regenerative Energy®, Michael Baute, joined the company’s engineering and design team at the early stages of planning for our Turkey Creek Solar Ranch in Garrard County, Kentucky. This engagement provided Shallenberger and Baute with the opportunity to bring their significant regenerative expertise to bear and inform the team’s design and construction decisions and approaches, and to save money in the process.

Barns and sheds will be restored and posts from eight miles of existing fencing will be pulled out, stockpiled, and re-used

In late May of this year, the two regenerative ranchers visited the 750-acre Turkey Creek property, previously a working cattle farm that was rotationally grazed. Their site-wide tour revealed 20 existing buildings in various states of repair (or disrepair), including barns and sheds, as well as eight miles of interior fencing. Under standard solar industry practice, existing buildings, even those with structural integrity, are typically demolished. Entire buildings are pushed down and destroyed, wholesale. Large pieces are broken into manageable rubble and all the debris is scooped into dump trucks and carted to a landfill. Likewise, existing fencing is bulldozed and landfilled. 

That won’t be happening at Turkey Creek.  

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“Our minds immediately went to the same place,” Shallenberger said. “This is the perfect property for another Regenerative Energy® self-perform ranch. We plan to use the buildings that are deemed structurally fit for renovation for the team offices, one for a repurposed corral system—a place to load in, load out, and work animals—and another for equipment storage.” 

And rather than landfilling the eight miles of existing fencing, the company will be pulling out all the fence posts—over 5,000—and re-using them not only for the fencing required for this project, but also for fencing on future Kentucky projects. “There are so many posts, we’ll have a substantial stockpile,” Shallenberger told me. “We’re saving dollars in demolition, transportation, and landfill tipping costs, while avoiding the increased greenhouse gas emissions of landfilling.

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“Salvaging and repurposing materials from just a few barns benefited a local business and added to the already meaningful ecological and distributed economic impacts of the project.”

Materials from existing structures that inspections and structural review deem unfit for renovation will be salvaged and repurposed in new designs or recycled. A few salvaged barns at the property that lacked the structural integrity for renovation yielded 50,000 board feet of lumber, as well as metal roofing. All of this material was saved and will be repurposed. “Salvaging and repurposing materials from just a few barn benefited a local business and added to the already meaningful greenhouse gas, ecological, and distributed economic impacts of the project. It also saved the company the significant costs it would have to pay to tear the buildings down and have the debris hauled away, because the salvaged materials are valuable,” Shallenberger explained. 

Old concrete foundations will be processed and repurposed in gravel roads

The demolished barns left a footprint—several massive concrete foundations—that Silicon Ranch must remove. Rather than hauling it off and disposing it in the landfill, the company will be able to decrease its costs by having the concrete pulverized into gravel. The resulting gravel will be used to construct the necessary project roads, reducing total construction costs while lessening greenhouse gas emissions and providing other benefits to the environment and the local economy.

Designing to accommodate holistic grazing property-wide facilitates more efficient and effective ecosystem restoration 

On their visit, Shallenberger and Baute also identified the opportunity to manage the entire property with livestock, both the 450 acres that will be inside the array fencing and the 300 acres that will be outside the fencing. Making that decision early allowed the design team to design in additional gates to accommodate ease of livestock management and thus more effective management – with extra gates, livestock can easily be moved in and out of array fencing at multiple points around the arrays. 

Pioneering regenerative design and construction at Turkey Creek Solar Ranch builds on Silicon Ranch’s reputation as the Southeast region’s utility-scale solar energy pioneer. Through the Regenerative Energy® team’s early engagement in project planning, the company is able to design and construct solar projects in alignment with nature. This can contribute to the restoration of natural systems and increase the net positive impacts of the project to local communities and the planet. By salvaging and repurposing building materials and fencing rather than landfilling, regenerative design helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, benefits local businesses, and creates increased availability of resources for future projects. 

“Getting involved in our projects early provides the Regenerative Energy team an opportunity to influence design with an eye toward long-term, holistic land management,” said Shallenberger. “Additionally, as some of the first boots on the ground, we are able to identify pre-construction opportunities and constraints that might otherwise be missed. In the case of Turkey Creek, this work yielded significant increases in efficiency for the company while diverting literally tons of material from the local landfill and simultaneously creating opportunities for local companies. It’s very satisfying work.”