Solar energy can save the family farm, but trouble looms cleantechnica grade 6 electricity unit plan


For all the talk about saving the family farm, when independent farmers try to save themselves with solar energy it’s not always welcome news for the neighbors. A fight over farmland use in Washington State is the latest example of rural areas adjusting to solar development, and it ain’t pretty.

To be clear, the battle lines are hazy and it’s not just a case of small agricultural businesses bucking other locals. Big agriculture also stands to benefit from renewable energy development, too. Solar Energy Trouble Brewing In Rural America

Opposition has coalesced around a newly formed local organization called Save our Farms (let’s pause here to note that the similarly named organization Save Family Farms lists a number of issues concerning family owned farms in Washington State, and solar development is not one of them; SFF is focused on dairy farmers and its main beef seems to be with the Western Environmental Law Center).

Despite the opposition, so far the project is on track for the green light. Earlier this month, a state agency overrode a Kittitas County moratorium on solar development. The review process will be expedited and in about two months Governor Jay Inslee will make the final decision, so stay tuned for that. Where Else Can You Put A Solar Farm In Farmland?

…The Valley makes up 15 percent of California’s total land, and 3,250 of the Valley’s 20,000 square miles were classified as non-agricultural spaces viable for solar energy. But the authors calculate that development of solar power on just these lands would create enough electricity to power all of California 13 times over (with photovoltaic panels) or two times over (with concentrating solar power).

If that’s starting to sound familiar, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. Back during the Obama Administration, the US EPA took a close look at brownfields and Superfund sites available for clean power development, and came up with the potential for 14 million acres (that figure includes non-rural areas, but still!).

In the latest news on that score, let’s head across the country to Maine’s mid-coastal region, where last month the USDA approved a $1.5 million loan to offset the cost of a new 1.5 megawatt PV project on the grounds of a former Navy base in Maine.

Back in 2011, the USDA took a close look at the potential for solar energy to benefit farmers economically while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels, noting that “Farmers have the tradition of being stewards of the land, and their investment in renewable energy supports their role of protecting the land, air, and water.”

Solar energy, like other renewables, offers an opportunity to stabilize energy costs, decrease pollution and greenhouse gases (GHGs), and delay the need for electric grid infrastructure improvements (Brown and Elliott, 2005). Solar energy systems have low maintenance costs, and the fuel is free once the higher initial cost of the system is recovered through subsidies and energy savings (from reduced or avoided energy costs).

“Lots of the farms have net metering, this is when there’s over-production and the extra power is sent down the line, but credited to you on your bill. There’s no battery [to store power] so unused power is sent on down the line to the neighbors. Solar owners are working in unison with the power company,” Ronen says.

As for the future of rural solar development, it’s worth noting that rural electric cooperatives — of which there are hundreds in the US — is emerging as a strong backer of rural PV development. Here’s the trade organization NRECA on that score:

Increasingly, co-ops are bringing solar to regions of the country once considered unsuitable for solar development. The unique attributes of solar power – it is flexible and scalable – can provide power in remote areas unconnected to the grid. Co-op solar capacity has tripled in the last three years.