Pennsylvania farm families have long supported the need for homegrown energy sources and making our nation more energy-independent. As our state charts a course for reinvigorating Pennsylvania’s economy, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is calling on state lawmakers to quickly pass legislation to allow for community solar. House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 705 are bipartisan legislative solutions that will stimulate economic growth, provide revenue for farm families and help our nation become more energy-independent.
Pennsylvania’s farmers have faced several years of low commodity prices and a shaky economy. Unlike any other business, farmers don’t set their own prices: they are at the mercy of the commodity market. When those commodity prices are down, farmers are left with few options except to somehow cut expenses. Dairy farmers in particular have been burdened with this difficult dynamic. Community solar could provide farm families with a predictable source of income that will help them hold on to their farms and sustain their businesses.
Community solar is a simple concept. It involves the installation of solar panels at a site such as a farm, large roof or other area. Nearby residents and customers can sign up to participate in the community solar project and save money on their electric bill for their share of the power produced by the solar panels.
These projects connect those who cannot install solar energy on their own properties because their roof cannot accommodate panels; renters who cannot make property adjustments; or those not wanting to maintain their own system for renewable, homegrown energy.
Farmers have the land, barn roofs and range of spaces suited to host larger-scale solar energy installations that multiple people and entities can benefit from through community solar arrangements.
Our farmers can play a critical role in hosting these projects. The leases will provide an immediate additional source of income to help them weather the current economic crisis and make long-term investments in their farms.
These projects can provide an immediate shot in the arm to farmers as soon as enabling legislation is passed and projects can commence. Many already have leases signed and are just waiting for the state to act so they can get underway.
The opportunity to earn income by leasing farm space to solar projects will allow farmers to maintain their own independence while also promoting energy independence, with power generated right in the local community.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau supports HB 531 and SB 705 not only because of the economic boost they will provide to farmers, but also because solar energy installations can be designed in innovative ways that are compatible with farming operations. Crops can be placed under and around panels; animals can graze around them; and pollinator-friendly plantings can be utilized in a way that creates a symbiotic relationship that supports agricultural operations.
Farmers are skilled in determining the best economic use of their property and agricultural land. The beauty of solar panels is that they can be removed once the infrastructure is no longer needed or useful, with no damage to the land.
This makes solar energy a versatile economic decision that also can help farmers plan crop rotations and sustainable land usage for the long term.
Community solar projects are the logical next step for Pennsylvania farmers, many of whom have already made the conscientious decision to use solar energy to save money on their own energy costs.
More than 4,100 Pennsylvania farms already use some form of renewable energy, with most of it (2,800 farms) coming from solar panels, according to the 2017 federal agricultural census
As we seek solutions to support the farm families of Pennsylvania, our legislators should look to the one that is right in front of us. The time is now to move ahead and take action on community solar to support our farms and add power to our economy.
Darrin Youker is the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s director of state government affairs.