Solar Leases Could Be a Boon to Midwest Dairy Farmers, But Will Opposition Strike?

Dairy farmers in Illinois have the potential to earn tens of thousands of dollars a year by leasing land for community solar projects. The Illinois chapter of the American Dairy Association of the Midwest is working with UpField Group to sign agreements with individual farmers to lease up to 20 acres for solar projects.

Payments would range between $1,000 and $2,000 per acre over the life of the project – typically 15 to 20 years, according to Dairy Herd Management. But if a similar project in Washington state is anything to go by, Illinois farmers may not have an easy time taking advantage of the agreement.

Leasing land for solar is increasingly becoming a way for farmers to diversify as solar developers seek prime locations, but siting solar farms on fields that have been used in the past for agriculture is not always a popular decision. In Washington, for example, Seattle-based Tuusso Energy is working to contract with a handful of farms in Kittitas County, but a nonprofit organization – one devoted to opposing the development – has sprung up. “These projects should not be on ag land. There are plenty of other places in the county where they can go,” says Richard Carkner, a resident of the county and founder of Save Our Farms (via MagicValley.com). Similar concerns had prompted county commissioners to reject earlier proposals. Solar leases on agricultural land in North Carolina have also faced opposition due to a variety of factors, including noise during construction.

Opponents of solar farms on agricultural land say that such placement puts pressure on natural or agricultural areas that are already under threat from urban development and conservation measures. When a piece of land is developed for solar installation, it is not likely to ever be reverted into agricultural land, according to Michael Allen, a professor emeritus of plant pathology and biology at UC Riverside who published a study in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology. “That’s because flattening and compacting the land, as well as the long-term application of herbicides to keep the site clear of weeds, spoils the land for future farming,” Allen says (via CleanTechnica).

Technology innnovations offer potential solutions. The Fraunhofer Institute For Solar Energy Systems in Germany, for example, mounts solar panels on racks high enough to allow normal agricultural activities beneath them, increasing the productivity of the land.

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