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To combat climate change: Encourage solar energy that doesn’t sacrifice agricultural land

America needs renewable energy, but solar should not be sited on our most productive, resilient farmland. 


U.S. states have set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically increasing the generation of renewable energy, which will require dramatic increases in solar and wind energy.

These efforts create opportunities for farmers and landowners to reduce their energy expenses and earn new income, but also pose threats to farmland. Flat, open farm fields, often the most productive farmland, are highly desirable for solar siting. In many parts of the country, this new pressure compounds a severe “competition for land” for housing, food production, and now renewable energy.

However, new research is documenting that regions can more than meet their ambitious solar energy goals on marginal and developed land without sacrificing productive farmland.

The solution is smart solar siting that guides solar development onto land where it has the least impact on agriculture and the environment. Smart solar siting can maximize potential renewable energy while minimizing impact on the nation’s most productive farmland and other resources.

In addition, there are new projects demonstrating that solar generation can be compatible with continued farming such as rotational grazing of livestock, which take little or no land out of production. Unfortunately, information and guidance on solar siting on farmland is fragmented and does not provide local officials what they need to develop policies and understand implications of approving siting permits.

AFT’s Smart Solar Siting project tackles these issues and provide new resources for communities, organizations, landowners, and farmers to achieve the dual goals of expanding solar energy generation and protecting farmland.

State Projects

It is imperative that states work actively to find a path forward that balances the need to accelerate the deployment of renewables with the protection of the region’s best farmland. Determining how much solar is required overall in each state to reach our climate goals is only one part of the equation; we must determine through consensus how best to site it – including on what types of land, and at what scale – to minimize conflict.