Maine is in danger of losing some of its best agricultural land to solar farms


Oct. 16—Tright here is a finite Quantity of acres in Maine Which will produce crops and assist agricultural farms. Solely 13 % of the state is relevant farmland, Based mostly on the Maine Division of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

In current occasions, these acres have been focused by photo voltaic farm builders. In all probability the most fascinating land For huge photo voltaic farms is A minimal of 25 acres, flat, open to the photo voltaic, simply accessible by good roads and shut to current power strains.

In completely different phrases, land That is good for farming.

Now A gaggle — shaped As a Outcome of of legal guidelines final summer time — will make coverage ideas that stability The Want to shield Maine’s current and future farmland in the direction of The need to develop sources of renewable power.

Tright here Is not any official knowledge on how a lot farmland has already been transformed to photo voltaic farms. In 2020, 88 % of the 335 photo voltaic farm pre-purposes submitted to the Maine Pure Areas Program embraced extreme-extreme quality farmland. That is A potential Lack of 14,949 acres of Maine’s shut toly 2.9 million acres Of obtainable farmland.

This land — Usually acknowledged as prime farmland, or soils of statewide significance — has soil with Definitely one of the biggest bodily and chemical traits To current meals, animal feed and forage crops. The designation Is set by the U.S. Division of Agriculture.

The 2020 numbers from the Maine Pure Areas Program Do not embrace acreage for photo voltaic enhancements of fewer than 20 acres, since these Do not need to Bear The identical state permitting course of. It additionally only recurrents The complete acreage critiques, not these accredited for enhancement.

“Sure, We now have seen farms misplaced to photo voltaic enhancement [and] extra knowledge Is required to precisely monitor and seize what has been developed and what’s Inside the pipeline,” said Nancy McBrady, director of the Maine Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Assets.

The group tasked with making coverage ideas — the Agriculture Solar Stakeholders Group — embraces state officers, farmers, municipal officers and recurrentatives of the photo voltaic enterprise, and was created by the Maine Division of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Governor’s Energy Office. It grew from the state’s 4-yr local climate movement plan That seems at how Maine ought to tackle local climate change immediately.

An factor of the movement plan each reduces greenhouse gasoline emissions and will enhance native meals manufacturing.

In some circumstances, these two goals have found themselves at odds with Every completely different.

New Gloucester farmer Carl Wilcox has misplaced rely of the Quantity of inquiries He is acquiredten from photo voltaic builders Considering about his land.

“I am Sort of a small-time farmer right here And that i have acquiredten a number of inquiries about placing up a photo voltaic farm on my land,” Wilcox said.

“What the photo voltaic farms are after is farmland proper subsequent to the road. They need the land That is biggest to get to and develop and That Can be A pair of of Definitely one of the biggest farmland.”

Wilcox said A lot of the inquiries He is acquiredten have come by mail and have ended up in his wastebasket. However he said he has Held on to the final one he acquired, although he has not decided how or if He’ll proceed with the request To place a photo voltaic array on his property.

Wilcox fears that the extra prime farmland and important soils are taken out of meals manufacturing, the extra farmers Should Rely upon extra marginal land That is much less best for crops.

Tright here is additionally the monetary actuality confronted by working farmers.

“The worth of a lease settlement from photo voltaic enhancement on the farmland might exceed that of the farm’s regular income,” McBrady said.

Intypeation acquired So far about potential photo voltaic tasks has been regarding to the stakeholder group As a Outcome of of extreme proportion of farm soil Which Might Even be embraced, Based mostly on member Ellen Griswold, coverage and evaluation director with Maine Farmland Notion.

“We understand that It is unrealistic To imagine We can’t lose any farmland to photo voltaic enhancement,” Griswold said, including that Now’s the time To Make constructive the insurance coverage policies are in place to create Definitely one of the biggest use of that land.

The stakeholder group has till The start of the yr to submit its ideas on farmland and photo voltaic enhancement insurance coverage policies. McBrady said these insurance coverage policies will type The idea For a method photo voltaic tasks are sited Finally.

“The state does have aggressive renewable power goals that the [Division of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry] assists,” McBrady said. “That is wright here the rubber hits the road and we Think about strategies To understand these goals That are not dangerous to our important farmland so We will develop our meals financial system and increase our photo voltaic manufacturing.”