I have such a love/love relationship with solar. And yet my ancient slate roof is, I have been told, not a candidate for panels. As miserable as this makes me, I am encouraged that it appears as though Americans are increasingly circling around the concept of harnessing the sun. Some are taking their interest a step further — either buying green power from a utility to support cleaner air (me!), or installing panels if and when possible, on roofs and elsewhere. But did you know that for farmers, solar can be all that and more: a way to save the farm? Not proverbially, but literally.
I also have a love/love relationships with my local farmers. The stories of farmers all over the U.S. doing deals and leasing out all or part of their land to solar companies for additional revenue are uplifting. One media-friendly tale involves “Granny Sarah” leasing 24 of her 119-acre North Carolina farm, which formerly produced tobacco, corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops. Now that she’s growing electricity, the 85-year-old has some financial security. Win-win. Then there’s the California almond farmer nearly ruined by drought who was able to save the day by leasing his land to a solar developer to “farm the sun,” as he told National Geographic.
Further north in solar-friendly Vermont, the governor, Peter Shumlin, devotes an entire page on the state’s website to the marriage between renewable energy and farmers. He is a big fan, saying it gives landowners and farmers the ability to bring in some additional income from their land without having to subdivide and sell it off for commercial development. He was on hand at the Whitcomb family’s farm (which has been in continuous operation since 1867), for the grand opening of their solar project. The seventh-generation dairy farming family leased 15 of their 400 acres to host one of the largest solar farms in Vermont, with twelve thousand panels.
Farmers say leasing land for solar leaves the land as is and that solar, like crops, is a natural resource. Vermont’s governor points out that a big benefit is that farmers diversify their income and help keep their land productive for future generations. Critics counter that solar installations, especially on such a broad scale, can disrupt land and species living on the land, and it clearly does not pay as much as crops. No one can argue that for unfarmable land, solar is anything but a good, viable option.
Critics also say that solar hurts jobs and is bad for our economy. Reports have countered this claim, including a new one just out from NextGen Climate America. They show that transitioning to clean energy is an economic boon that increases employment, reduces costs to consumers, and benefits investors. Addressing climate change is a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to build the economy.
I am lucky to be surrounded by farms where I live. I am excited to bring up this idea of agricultural land lease with the farmers I know. And personally, I’m eagerly awaiting new panels that can sit on slate roofs. Insiders assure me they are in the works. And I cannot wait to pay for them, hire locals to install them, and share my extra sunshine with the grid.
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