The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 14, 2019

Down on the farm: more solar going up?

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING - More farmland in the state will be available for the placement of commercial solar arrays, according to an announcement made June 3 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Whitmer and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Gary McDowell announced their decision to allow land currently enrolled in the department’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program to be used for commercial solar array purposes. It reverses a decision by Gov. Snyder to keep solar development off the farmland.

The Farmland and Open Space Preservation program provides tax incentives to landowners who keep their land under agreements for agricultural use. Currently, there are 3.4 million acres of farmland enrolled, and they are now available for solar panel placement. Developers searching for farmland for large solar array projects have been having difficulty finding areas that don’t include farmland in the preservation program.

“My administration understands and is committed to helping meet the growing demand for clean, renewable energy sources in our state. By preparing for and investing in renewable energy, we're protecting our environment while diversifying revenue options for Michigan farmers and supporting economic development and job creation in a key Michigan industry." said Whitmer. “We want to ensure that the placement of commercial solar panel arrays is consistent with farming operations and the purposes of Public Act 116, while also providing opportunities for renewable energy."

McDowell said “this administrative decision will not result in a loss of useable farmland" and will provide "an exciting new opportunity for Michigan's farmers to diversify while they continue to face challenging circumstances.” Solar panels prohibit the growth of crops underneath, but elevating the panels can keep farmland available for livestock grazing, said Bridge Magazine. 

Allowing the panels also opens up another potential revenue stream for farmers.

  • Solar power in Michigan (as of December 2018)
  • Solar installed: 152.25 megawatts
  • National ranking: 31st
  • Percentage of state's electricity from solar: 0.21 percent
  • Solar jobs: 4,196
  • Solar Companies in State: 237 (76 Manufacturers, 102 Installers/Developers, 59 Others)
  • Total solar investment in state: $279.82 million
  • Prices have fallen: 47% over the last five years
  • Growth projection and ranking: 857 MW over the next 5 years (ranks 21st)
  • Source: Solar Energies Industries Association