Finding New Ways to Support the Prairie Wolf Community

About the Author

David Ureno

David Ureno
Prairie Wolf – Solar Facilities Manager

Share This Article

When we first started construction on our Prairie Wolf Solar Farm in Illinois, we were the new kid on the block. As the first renewable energy project in Coles County, we had a lot to prove: To show landowners that we were a good partner and to show the wider community we truly care — that we practice the farmer-founded values we preach.

One of the first things we did to make that connection with the community was an open-house event called Stuff-the-Bus as part of our grand opening back in summer 2022. We had a real school bus on-site, and we literally stuffed donations into the bus – backpacks, calculators, writing utensils, classroom supplies, and more. The donations went along with our commitment to contribute more than $700,000 over the next 20 years to the local Kansas School District.

The open house event had great attendance. We got to meet people, put faces to names, show people around, and teach them how a solar farm works. It was a lot of fun and I think it helped set the foundation for building trusting relationships with our landowners and community members.

Engaging with schools and youth programs

Our donations to the local school district are long-term commitments, but we’re already starting to see impacts. I’ve heard from landowners here that the school has been able to provide new supplies and afford new books, and they’re also putting that money into extracurricular programs to help support the kids.

We’re now opening our donations to find more ways to support young people in the community. One cool example: We sponsored the post-prom party at the local high school for the last two years. Basically, they rent out the local YMCA and bus the kids over so they can enjoy themselves in a fun, safe space.

I’m currently working on finding a way to partner with the nearby community college and its renewable energy program. I’m passionate about helping young people see opportunities to connect what they love with careers. Because that’s what I get to do: I’m a gearhead. I love engines, motors, and mechanical things. And I get to fix big machines for a living. But in doing so, I’m creating clean, renewable energy for the world.

Sheep in front of solar panels

Sheep grazing pilot program

Here’s one of the cooler things I’ve been a part of: A few years ago, as we were getting the solar farm up and running, a local sheep farmer approached me about using sheep grazing as a natural form of vegetation management. National Grid Renewables had not used sheep grazers before, and our team talked with the farmer and came up with a grazing pilot program for us to implement here at Prairie Wolf.

The sheep farmer sets up a paddock of about an acre and lets his 87 sheep go to work. They graze there for about a week (depending on how hungry they are!) and then he moves the paddock over a bit. It’s like a big accordion. He keeps shifting them through the acreage, an acre at a time.

The pilot program has two benefits for us: One, we’re doing something natural that benefits the land — using sheep instead of gas-fueled lawnmowers, and naturally fertilizing the soil with the sheep manure. Two, I’m reducing my cost of vegetation management, which is the single biggest cost outside of paying contractors that operate the solar farm.

Always looking for new ways to help

I’ve worked in the renewables industry for 14 years, across the country. And I’ve been amazed at all the ways National Grid Renewables engages with the community surrounding project sites. The stories I shared above show how we’re always trying new things and I’m lucky to be a part of it. Keeping things fresh is an important way to show our communities that we’re not going anywhere — we’re committed for the long haul.

More Neighborhood News

Contact Form

Feedback Form

This website uses cookies to better understand how visitors use our site, for advertising, and to offer you a more personalized experience. By using this website with cookies enabled in your browser, you agree to their use by this site. For more information, please review our privacy policy.