Should Agricultural Land be Used for Solar?

Posted in Clean Electric, Community Solar, Solar, Solar New in VT

Vermont Community Solar focuses primarily on ground-based solar arrays. These arrays require space, both for the physical array itself and enough land to the south of the array to ensure that the array’s will remain unshaded for the duration of the array. Over the course of 30 years land that could consist of rolling meadows and open space could be transformed; trees could spring up, buildings could be erected, power lines could be built, and all of this would affect the shading profile of that field. For this reason, it is important to ensure that enough land is reserved to ensure that these potential shading hazards don’t affect our arrays. Farmland offers the ideal venue for solar, as it provides the availability of building an array to the north end of a piece of agricultural land, with the land south of the array being farmed year after year, never allowing shading hazards to arise. Building an array on farmland, however, comes with criticism. Let me explain how we at Soveren feel about harvesting the sun rather than harvesting vegetable on land equally suited for both.

As you probably know, Vermont is a rural state with about 80% of its territory consisting of forestland. The remaining 20% is made up of urban areas, farmland, and other land used for the pursuit of human activities. When we consider building an array, deforestation is not an option, therefore we must look within that 20% of deforested land for our site. Sure, we may fell a tree if absolutely necessary, but by and large our model calls for the preservation of the land our array will co-exist within. We feel our solar model can actually help the land in a few ways. Allow me to explain: The arrays are temporary installations, and the industry standard for an array’s lifetime is 30 years. Once the array’s lifespan has been reached, the poles we’ve driven into the ground to support the array can simply be pulled out. In the mean time the land our array occupies — which would otherwise be farmed year after year — is given a chance to lie fallow, given the soil a chance to replenish as wild, native plants are given a chance to grow and refresh the nutrient content of the soil reducing the need for petrochemical fertilizers to be applied. We can think of this as a sort of long-term crop rotation, where the harvest of vegetables is replaced with the harvest of energy. Alternatively, the land under the array does not necessarily need be left fallow, but rather be used to grow crops which prefer shade that could otherwise not be grown there, or allow grazing of small mammals such as goats, sheep, or even llamas (added bonus of not needing to mow the field in these cases), countering the nutrient-deplenishing practice of monoculture crops being grown in the same plot of land year after year, leading to soil degradation and erosion.

In these ways, we feel our arrays are able to function symbiotically with the fields in which they reside; they allow the owner of the field to generate income they might otherwise seek through farming of the land, they allow the land to be replenished for future generations, and they allow for a host of different potential uses that could be employed which were previously less desirable or unavailable.

For those reasons, we tend to disagree with the neighbors in Californias’ opinions expressed in the article attached.

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Neighbors: Solar farms will make land ‘industrial site’

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