Like many Virginia landowners lately, I am getting unsolicited offers from companies wanting to lease my land to exploit it for solar farms. I throw all of them in the garbage. I don’t care what kind of money they are offering. I don’t want it. It’s not my business to tell other forest landowners what to do, but I do want to explain why I feel strongly that we should not encourage solar farms in Virginia.
Solar is great – IN ITS PLACE
First, let me make it clear that I support solar on rooftops, powering remote installations & shading sunny parking lots. Lord knows it would be great to be able to park in the shade on a hot July day, and our urban areas are full of these sun-baked roofs & parking lots.
Just don’t take down forests or cover fields with solar panels. This is not clean energy.
Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees
Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. As responsible private landowners we protect and enhance the health of the biotic communities – of the living soil, water, air and wildlife – that depend on our land. This does not mean we should not use or profit from the land. On the contrary, good stewardship means wise use of land, and profit is a price of sustainability. We also must look beyond our own land to the greater ecosystem and the greater society. We should be thinking in terms of the triple bottom line. Is a decision reasonable from perspectives of ecology, economy and society? It must pass muster on all three.
Considering the really big picture, we might argue that devoting our forest land to solar would meet the triple bottom line criteria. Here is why it does not. If we harvest a tract, it does not stop being a forest. It becomes a forest in transition, as the next generation begins, may have already begun even as the harvest is in process. It stops being a forest if we convert to other uses, pave it over or cover it in solar panels. But isn’t the energy produced by these panels worth the cost of the local forests? Well … no.
Today’s solution will be tomorrow’s problem
No matter what they tell you, or maybe even believe, these panels will not last decades. They will be ruined by weather, made obsolete by advancing technology or just neglected. During their short lifetime, it is likely that they will never make up for the ecological value of the trees they replaced, nor the biotic communities that would have grown up.
We can tell they are a bad deal because they are not self-supporting. These solar farms are essentially farming tax breaks and subsidies. Their business model says that they get these things up front, while you rely on the uncertain long-term payback.
Anyway, before you let these guys put those things on your land, ask a few practical questions. How long and how much? How often will they be coming onto your land? What happens if they must remove the panels? Is the firm reliable AND are they likely to stay in business for the life of the contract? Who is liable if something goes wrong?
I reject solar farms because they violate my land ethic
I could think of a few more, but maybe save time by asking an enabling question first. Does this use of land fit my land ethic as a forest landowner? My answer is “no,” so I can just stop right there.
You need not eat the whole egg to know it’s rotten.