• Steve Eberly

How Renewable Project Opponents Are Getting it Wrong About Land Use

Updated: Sep 20

People who oppose renewable energy projects are increasingly citing the amount of acreage proposed as a reason for opposition. While they say that proposed renewable projects will swallow all available farmland, the truth is that these projects use only a fraction of farmland – while providing millions of dollars in economic benefits to the whole county.

Those who follow me are aware that my family and I have owned Hoosier farmland for some time. Every generation faces new challenges, opportunities, and changes that impact land use. It doesn’t matter if it was adding new fencing or utility poles throughout the land to enable power to all. Having access to land means we need to accommodate change. And these small changes can mean some big benefits.

These projects use only a fraction of farmland – while providing millions of dollars in economic benefits to the whole county.

Renewable energy is the change right in front of us now. Change that has been evaluated and embraced by other states. Projects are being announced all over Indiana, and they will be an undeniable part of our future. We have the opportunity to provide some incredible benefits for our counties.

Like all change, this one comes with tradeoffs. Indiana is a rural state, and by devoting just a sliver of our land for solar energy we can deliver millions of dollars in economic benefits to the entire county. For example:

  • 1,400 acres of potential solar in Henry County is less than one percent of total farmland, and could mean $59 million in new revenue for the county.

  • In Pulaski County, 4,500 acres use only 2% of the total farmland and will provide $60 million in new county revenue.

  • And the 1,400 acre proposed project in Boone County --also less than 1% of farmland -- will be a $180 million investment in the community.

Vast tracts of land underlying these projects will be covered with vegetation for 25-30 years, and nature will do what it does. Diverting away from crop production for a while improves things: the land will rest and restore itself. In many ways, from a land-use perspective, solar projects are the same as the USDA “set aside” programs whereby the landowner is paid to defer land from crop production. There is an agreed-to term for the deferral, and the land remains productive and functionally better than it was before being used to generate electricity from the sun.

Our land is a precious gift bestowed upon us humans, and how we understand it and use it to adapt to the changing realities, like energy diversification, is one of our responsibilities.

So just a small change can mean huge benefits. I’m in. I hope you are too.

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