Clean Energy Battle in the Heartland

April 22, 2021

All the good intentions for 100 percent clean energy will come to naught if the battle to deploy renewables across the heartland is not won.
Right now, astro-turf groups, manipulated by fossil fuel lobbyists, are doing all they can to slow the inevitable transition.

Adrian Daily Telegram (Michigan):

With disbelief, I watch townships and villages in our area deciding against the installation of renewable energy facilities. The arguments lack any comprehension, logic and foresight and will leave these communities behind in what will inevitably come whether the decision makers in these communities want it or believe it — or not.

A fast transition to clean renewable energy, specifically solar and wind energy, is needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate change and it becomes increasingly a no-brainer as the cost for solar and wind energy drop continuously making it cheaper than any other energy form.

Since money rules the world, the naysayers are on lost ground here, and history will just roll over them. In addition to denying these arguments of necessity and economy, the refusal of solar and wind installations is often based on the sentimental and nostalgic belief that valuable and precious farmland should not be converted to solar and wind facilities.

There are also some serious misunderstandings and misconceptions behind these arguments. Traditional and diverse small-scale farming and homesteading was destroyed long ago and changed into large scale mono-culture operations heavily dependent on fossil-fuel driven machinery, fertilizers and pesticides in an often industrial scale. These operations destroy the fertility of our soils, reduce biodiversity and leave us with polluted soils, water, and air — all to produce surplus of corn and soy to be fed to animals instead of people, to be burned as “biofuel” or to produce so much milk that it ends up as milk powder for export. This is not the cultural heritage of traditional agriculture but the pure opposite.

In contrary to this misguided form of agriculture, wind parks and solar farms do not destroy the fertility of soils, do not reduce biodiversity and do not pollute the soil, water, and air. In contrary, modern management concepts allow the same land to be used for small scale agriculture such as sheep grazing on grassland enriched with native plant species or beekeeping which improve soil fertility and biodiversity and cause no pollution.

In the future, we might even be able to raise all solar panels higher above the ground and allow any form of cultivation of the land below. Pilot trials for this in various countries of the world showed that many crops grow better under solar panels allowing higher agricultural yields AND additional from producing clean renewable energy — not to speak about the benefits for the society and Earth community.

I close with a plea to the naysayers, deniers and nostalgists to embrace the future in which we will mend some of the worst mistakes humanity has done and be on the forefront of these inevitable developments instead of getting further behind.

Thomas Wassmer, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Biology

Siena Heights University, Adrian

Ben Moran in Cleveland.com:

MINERVA, Ohio — Like many in Ohio, my family is weighing our desires for independence and financial stability as we chart the future of our small farm. We want a property plan that puts our land to good use and turns a reasonable amount of work into a stable income. Building a community solar farm provides the future we’re hoping for, but families like mine can’t do so without a change in Ohio law.

To see why, it’s helpful to understand what it would take to create a community solar installation on my family’s property. An energy supplier would lease a section of our farm for 20 years (a little less than the lifetime of a solar panel). Beyond our written agreement and an occasional meeting, they would handle the entire process, from the paperwork, to the installation, to the final removal of the panels. In fact, the lease would include a legal guarantee that they would remove the solar equipment when it expired, so our land could be returned to whatever use we saw fit. At a going rate of $800 to $1,000 per acre per year in other states, leasing property for a community solar installation is a financially sound choice for our family.

There is one problem, though: Ohio utilities law does not allow other homeowners to buy the power produced by a solar farm on our land. Under current state law, my parents can only produce as much power as they consume. Those who want to reap the benefits of clean, cheap, local power, but don’t have the means to produce it themselves, are usually out of luck. This legal state of affairs hurts not only the farmers and others who host community solar, but also the individuals and businesses who benefit from the power source, as well as the electricians who work to bring the solar farms to life.

The restrictions on solar are even worse when compared to the lack of production controls on other energy sources. Many landowners enjoy the benefits of unlimited consumption and sale of oil and gas from their land. In contrast, current law limits solar installations based on past electric bills in a way that discourages people from becoming truly energy independent. If a homeowner wants to change their heating source to rely on only the electricity they generate themselves, they cannot install the solar panels in advance. Ironically, one solar provider suggested increasing our allowed solar capacity by installing air conditioning and wasting electricity! That ridiculous logic is a sign of a system in need of reform.

While several legal frameworks could fix this problem, perhaps the most flexible is virtual net metering. With virtual net metering, our neighbors take credit for the power produced on our farm and the equivalent amount of power usage is subtracted from their energy bill. If the community solar power is cheaper than the going rate of electricity, then up to a thousand houses in our area could benefit. If not (an unlikely scenario, given the dropping price of solar power), nobody is forced to join the program.

Utility companies certainly deserve compensation for the use of electricity infrastructure, since transmitting power from our property to others requires the use of their power lines. Those costs can easily be factored in through fixed charges or minimum bills, eliminating any fears that the cost of the lines would shift to others on the grid.

Twenty states have virtual net metering or another community solar framework. By joining them, Ohio could provide revenue to farmers, savings to homeowners, and work to electricians and solar installers. At the same time, they would increase the independence, resilience, and efficiency of our energy system. As they ponder replacements for the shame that was House Bill 6, I hope our lawmakers pursue the changes needed to make community solar farms a reality in our state.

Ben Moran is a Ph.D. student in biology at Stanford University where he studies how human land-use choice affects the health of wildlife. He also manages forestry on his family’s property in Minerva, Ohio.

One Response to “Clean Energy Battle in the Heartland”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    In the future, we might even be able to raise all solar panels higher above the ground and allow any form of cultivation of the land below. Pilot trials for this in various countries of the world showed that many crops grow better under solar panels allowing higher agricultural yields AND additional from producing clean renewable energy — not to speak about the benefits for the society and Earth community.

    Isn’t there some sort of term for this yet, like “solar pasture” or “agro-solar” or sumpin’? I demand official jargon!


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