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Solar farms bring opportunities, land use questions for Pa. agriculture

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A photo voltaic array is put in in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Rachel Wagoner photograph)

In Pennsylvania, there are at the moment about 450 utility-scale photo voltaic initiatives into account. The majority of these proposed initiatives, if they’re constructed, would go on open land. That brings up alternatives for farmers who personal that land, but in addition questions about how photo voltaic growth may have an effect on the state’s agriculture.

“While sometimes in conflict, often there is land use compatibility between solar energy production and production agriculture,” stated Pennsylvania agriculture secretary Russell Redding, at a Jan. 13 Pennsylvania Farm Show panel. “As with other types of development, development of solar frequently seems targeted by industry to the flattest areas that often have the best soils for producing food. Competing land uses are not new to the agricultural landscape.”

The Pennsylvania State Grange hosted a panel with representatives from the state legislature, the business and vitality analysis to debate photo voltaic vitality growth and agriculture on the farm present Jan. 13.

Energy

Industry representatives estimate about 10-20% of the initiatives into account will really be constructed, stated Tom Murphy of Pennsylvania State University’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, throughout the panel. That may equal about 80,000 acres below photo voltaic panels, and a $13 billion funding in constructing initiatives within the state.

Panelists talked about connections between utility-scale photo voltaic growth and the sooner shale gasoline growth in Pennsylvania. In each circumstances, landowners must fastidiously contemplate the small print of leases and the way agreeing to a lease will have an effect on their land. Murphy really helpful landowners speak with an lawyer who has an excellent understanding of photo voltaic leasing, specifically.

Leasing

Leases for photo voltaic farms, nevertheless, are usually extra in depth than gasoline business leases, each within the variety of pages within the doc itself — usually 40 pages lengthy — and in years, usually spanning 1 / 4 of a century.

“There’s a lot of legalese in there, and people need to be assured that they understand what it is they’re signing, because these leases … in my opinion, if the lease is exercised, would be a multi-generational type of a contract that you’re going to enter into as a landowner,” Murphy stated.

There are just a few various things photo voltaic builders look for when contemplating land for a undertaking, he stated. One is present infrastructure within the space, like electrical substations. Open land that’s comparatively flat is one other. Also, as a result of these initiatives are sometimes a whole lot of acres, and even hundreds, builders usually look for related properties which can be all keen on leasing.

“A lot of utility-size solar farms, we do look at agricultural land because it offers areas that are previously disturbed, and they’re flat, and often we have landowners who are looking for this diversified revenue source,” stated Alyssa Edwards, vice chairman of environmental affairs and authorities relations at Lightsource BP, which has a number of photo voltaic initiatives in Pennsylvania.

Concerns

Pennsylvania Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, stated it’s necessary to think about the opposite penalties these initiatives may have.

“I am not against solar energy at all,” he stated. “But I have been around the legislature in Harrisburg long enough to know that what we do in one place … there’s a reaction somewhere else.”

Pennsylvania has greater than 600,000 acres of preserved farmland. It additionally has a clear and inexperienced tax evaluation program, meant to assist shield the state’s farmland and forestland. It’s necessary to think about how photo voltaic growth would have an effect on these packages, and whether or not farmland in these packages is eligible for photo voltaic leasing.

“Philosophically, what are we going to do with that?” Yaw stated. “I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer to this, but there are certainly ramifications from whichever direction we go.”

Yaw additionally raised issues about what occurs to photo voltaic panels on the finish of a 20 or 25 yr lease, and who’s accountable for them. So far, there isn’t a longtime, widespread system for recycling photo voltaic panels.

Some leases embody a requirement for firms to ultimately take away all tools and restore the land to its authentic situation. One pending invoice within the state legislature would require bonding for photo voltaic arrays, very like for coal mines, to assist guarantee builders restore the land on the finish of a undertaking.

Opportunities

Not all photo voltaic initiatives on farmland take the land completely out of fee for agriculture. Solar builders must maintain the landscapes round their photo voltaic panels maintained, and a few are prepared to enlist livestock to get it carried out. Some farmers are photo voltaic grazing as an method to use land below photo voltaic panels for agriculture, and make some cash.

“We would pay for a person … to mow the land that the solar facility is on, and in many cases now, we have sheep doing that work, so we pay, basically, the farmer to graze his or her sheep at solar facilities,” Edwards stated.

Last yr, Lexie Hain, a farmer and the chief director of the American Solar Grazing Association, grazed 550 acres with 1,400 ewes at amenities in New York and Pennsylvania.

“I’ve seen a major increase in … the amount of land I’m able to access, the amount of production I can have, the lambs I can sell and other sheep products, and so it’s been great for me personally,” Hain stated.

Communication is vital, she stated. It’s necessary to verify photo voltaic builders and farmers are on the identical web page about finest practices and what farmers will and received’t do at their amenities.

“They spend lots of time planning, and they invest millions of dollars, and we are going to bring livestock into their expensive facilities … we want them to trust us, and we want them to pay us,” Hain stated.

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