Sprawl, NIMBYs Threatens Farms, Food, and Clean Energy

February 6, 2022

One of the key reasons to support clean energy across America’s rural areas is that solar installations and wind turbines offer an alternative source of drought-proof, flood-proof, climate resilient income to farmers. As the stewards of land, farmers are the first line of defense for groundwater, soil and habitat that agricultural areas support. Giving them the tools to maintain their income, stay in business, and pass their land on in the family, is critical to insuring future food supplies and quality of life.

One pernicious but little discussed aspect of sprawl development is that, as suburbanites move into agriculturally zoned areas, the first thing they notice is that, dammit, there’s a bunch of farmers out here. Farmers running tractors, spreading manure, raising noisy cattle and crowing roosters, and, increasingly, wanting to choose wind turbines or solar panels as part of their income stream.
But for the transplants, Farmers are not seen as stewards of the land, as the bedrock of the community, or even as neighbors who’ve oftentimes been on the land for more than a century, but merely as “the help” – whose only role is to shut up, and continue to maintain an unchanging pastoral backdrop for ex-urbanite’s new pastoral lifestyle.
That selfish, short sighted impulse has been weaponized by the fossil fuel industry to choke off renewable energy.

Ag Week:

Between 2001 and 2016 alone, 11 million acres of the nation’s agricultural land — 4.4 million of them “nationally significant,” or the nation’s best land for food production — went for residential, commercial and industrial uses, according to the report from American Farmland Trust.

“Farmland is vital to this nation’s food security, yet it continues to be paved over, fragmented or converted to poorly planned” non-ag use, the report said. Though the U.S. “holds the world’s greatest concentration of fertile soil suited for growing food and other crops, only 39% is nationally significant land, which can reliably produce abundant yields for many decades to come, if farmed sustainably.

The loss of farmland is a familiar concern in agriculture, and one to which agriculturalists need to respond effectively, said Kevin Paap, a Blue Earth County, Minn., farmer and president of his state Farm Bureau. 

“We need to be smarter about development,” said Paap, who was asked by Agweek to comment on the report and conversion of farmland into other uses in general. His organization has been working for many years to protect ag land and interests, he said.

The report identified two new trends, one positive and the other negative for ag land use. The former is a slowing of urbanization, which nonetheless remain a concern. The other trend is an increase in low-density residential, which includes large-lot subdivisions, open ag land adjacent to or surrounded by existing development and areas where individual houses or housing clusters are spread out along roads.

“We all recognize urban sprawl, but low-density residential land use has flown beneath the radar even though it is just as much a threat — now and in the future,” according to the report.

Fossil fuel operatives have been mobilized in rural areas to put pressure on local boards and planning commissions, using misinformation and outright lies to distort and confuse local deliberations. More and more, they are being called out.

KSHB Kansas City:

Green energy companies and environmentalists are fighting a revived push in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature for stricter limits on wind turbines and solar farms in a state where renewable resources account for nearly half the capacity for generating electricity.

Two Senate committees held hearings Thursday on bills backed by a key conservative lawmaker and landowners upset with wind turbines going up near their homes. Wind energy officials said the proposed rules would be so strict that no new wind or solar farms could be built in Kansas.

The measures are pushed by Senate Utilities Chair Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican who questions whether wind and solar farms can provide a reliable power supply. Thompson advocated such restrictionslast year but stirred up enough opposition that his push ended with hearings.

Thompson argues that the proposals would protect landowners who decline to sign leases and would keep companies from becoming too aggressive.

“They always talk about the landowner who’s willing to sign the lease. They never talk about the landowner who doesn’t want it right next door,” Thompson told The Associated Press in an interview. “I’m worried about the people who are trying to go behind backs and get stuff done and it harms their neighbors.”

One of the most pernicious disinformation streams is around supposed negative impacts from clean energy installations on soils or water resources.

Midwest Energy News:

False and unsubstantiated claims about renewable energy have flourished for years, but critics say different forms of misinformation played a big role in Ohio lawmakers’ latest move to stifle the growth of wind and solar energy.

“Misinformation is the means to the end,” said Trish Demeter, chief of staff for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund. “Misinformation, bad information, misconstrued information, partial information: All of those are tactics that are supporting the goal, which is to block and kill renewable energy from being built in Ohio.”

Senate Bill 52 would let counties keep out new solar and wind farms from all or part of their territories, holding those projects to a higher standard than fossil fuel infrastructure. 

In the case of natural gas, for example, Ohio courts have struck down local zoning laws and other restrictions. And on July 1, Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 201 into law, forbidding local governments from banning natural gas.

In contrast, SB 52 would let counties prevent or limit any particular solar or wind project within their borders. Passed in the wee hours of June 29 with some changes from earlier versions, SB 52 still gives local governments multiple chances to nix renewable energy projects or break them up. Counties and local townships also would get two votes on Ohio Power Siting Board decisions for those projects.

At a minimum, SB 52 extends project timelines and adds uncertainty that critics say will discourage developers from choosing Ohio for renewable energy projects, causing the state to lose out on thousands of jobs.

Beyond that, it would let local governments restrict property owners’ rights to enter into lease agreements. And its restrictions apply only to renewable energy — not fossil fuel projects.

In addition to providing income to farmers, clean energy is a huge stream of tax income to communities, supporting schools, roads, fire rescue, senior services, libraries, in other words, all those things that make life in rural areas attractive and sustainable. All the while keeping taxes low for ordinary homeowners.

One Response to “Sprawl, NIMBYs Threatens Farms, Food, and Clean Energy”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    What do they know? Do you know what solar panels do to my aura?

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