"Solar panels in the mist" by OregonDOT is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This came up I was just doing some solar assessments over in North Central Ohio and more when you go driving in in that kind of region you're going to see a lot of these signs along the road that say no solar panels on Prime farmland and it's interesting anyway because they're all clearly made by the same people. Everybody's got the same signs and so I was just curious as to who's behind this effort that's going on. 

What's the motivation what's the argument so I did a little research and then I thought I'd just share that with you  a lot of this is going to be happening in the Midwest specifically so what's the issue that we're dealing with

I guess I should back up just a little bit because I have some sympathy for them I have some sympathy for these positions in my way of thinking. Prime farmland, Green Fields, whatever you want to call them, should be the last choice right? We should be prioritizing and saying, okay, let's deal with the brownfields first and foremost. 

The EPA says they are properties that have been polluted in the past. You know we've all seen them, abandoned industrial facilities, perhaps an old Power Plant that's been shut down, a coal mine, although sometimes those are referred to as black fields. So basically, let's take the land that's not good for anything else and let's try and use it for solar first.

So these things typically have environmental issues that of course are going to add
some cost to the development of the project and there's always concern in any kind of development that there is going to be something that comes up with environmental issues that may cause the projects to come to a halt.

Then there's, what's referred to as, gray fields. Gray fields are essentially developed land develop projects that have been abandoned that don't necessarily present an environmental issue. This might be an abandoned shopping mall, perhaps an old school or something like that, some development that may have minor environmental issues like asbestos or lead paint but it's not going to be the same kind of thing you'd run into in an abandoned coal mine. For example a power plant where you're just dealing with all of that stuff. 

Then there's Green Fields. Green fields are basically clean and green undeveloped land. I think most people would think that farmland falls into this but for the most part it doesn't because farmland is not clean and green it is loaded with pesticides with herbicides. 

I think and I'll touch just lightly on this in a little bit, farmland is already industrial for the most part. It is an industrial process that we're living through with heavy machinery and chemicals and soil disruption and groundwater pollution and all of the other issues that go along with any kind of industrial activity. 

So I think a lot of this is kind of living in a never neverland when they're saying we're taking pristine beautiful green fields and turning them into an industrial wasteland of solar panels. That's some of the arguments you'll get from the folks against it. 

Who are some of these groups that are involved with these anti-solar campaigns that are out there? Well one that's right out front and a lot of them are spin-offs from this group, is a group called the "Citizens for Responsible Solar" and so I did some deep diving into what these guys are but first I want to tell you what they contend is the issue. So you go to their website and this is what they're going to say:
"The five big terrible things about solar." 

They're saying that industrial scale solar plants on rural land negatively impacts the environment, contribute to climate change and they're really big on this: it is disrupting our pristine rural lifestyle. That's one of their arguments there. They're fair enough, it is disruptive in the vein that industrial solar is developed and is driven by big tech. So now you're getting into the boogeyman thing that demands subsidized energy. That's sort of presenting it now as benefiting the other. 

"Then also solar energy produces large amounts of toxic waste."

That one was a little bit weird to me and looking at it I tried to figure out what they're talking about. Often, they're not very specific about what these things are but with this one, when you dig down into some of their fact sheets they were contending that IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), did a big report about the potential of solar waste in the future. I did look at that report it does say that by the year 2050 we may be facing as much as 78 million tons of waste in the disposal of solar panels. 

So 25 years, off into the future, this could become a problem. Now they have spun that to say that IRENA is claiming that by 2050 we will see two to three times the amount of waste from solar that we currently see from plastic. And that was a specific claim they made in there, which is not what IRENA said at all, in fact, most of their report was about how there's a lot of money to be made in the recapturing of the materials from solar. 

Most of the waste is in the form of glass that is easily recycled, harvesting of the silver, reusing the silicon. How do you do that? There's a lot of jobs out there and even on the face of it, they're saying 78 million tons potential whereas today, worldwide, we see about 350 million tons of plastic waste annually. So it's just flat out not true. Okay, so how do you compare? I mean it's just it's bold face lie. What can you say? 

Then they also talk about how cadmium will pollute the groundwater and that's suspect. I didn't delve that deeply but the cadmium telluride panels, I've never seen any articles that were talking about the leeching of cadmium into the soil. That's what mostly utility scale systems are made of! So that one doesn't strike me as credible but I don't want to dismiss it as a lie. I just I don't know enough about it. 

They're arguing that solar is unreliable and of course that it's not clean and that's interesting too because they talk about (yeah I mean it's true) they say that there is the use of concrete in these. There's the use of metal. There's the use of glass. All of these contribute to CO2 emissions. True enough but compared to what you know if you want electricity, compared to the alternatives, (it's) certainly substantially less but that part of the argument is ignored. 

I mean obviously, I'm an advocate for solar but I don't want to knock them down each time. I just want to present what they're saying here. They're also saying that it takes farmland out of production and it destroys the rural way of life. It causes groundwater pollution that had to do with the cadmium and that is simply too expensive. You know this is the old trope that solar is just too expensive and can only compete against fossil fuels if it uses government subsidies. (ed. note: Fossil fuels get $13 million in subsidies a minute 2022 worldwide).

Hopefully if you've been part of these conversations you know that the news today is showing that the the most expensive renewable energy without government subsidy is cheaper than the least expensive fossil fuel with with government subsidies. Fossil fuels receive massive government subsidies so those are just fairly easily discounted but persuasive with some folks.  

So where are they targeting? They're really (at the moment) targeting here in the Midwest. We're seeing it's a Virginia organization. When I say Virginia, I really should say Washington DC because as you'll see these folks are really tied in politically and it is a Washington DC organization. So we're seeing it starting to percolate around, throughout the Midwest. 

So why is this an issue? Well of course it's an issue because solar development and large solar development is growing and growing very, very quickly. We are beginning to see large disruption within the places that otherwise may not have been developed. It's a disruption, so there are going to be those who are going to rise in opposition to it. 

So why are developers eager to take farmland as opposed to developing old shopping malls or old coal power plants or whatever? Well as I mentioned the risk of pollution, the EPA stepping in and calling a halt is substantial but they (the developers) want flat sites. The flatter the better. Well, so do farmers right? for their fields (to be) relatively flat, not in a flood plane or a wetland, that's another issue that folks are looking for obviously. 

Crops would not necessarily be corn or soy which is really what we're talking about in the industrial farming community. Solar farms can't be developed in a wildlife habitat. So once again farms have already taking care of that problem. They also would like to be adjacent to a three-phase distribution line and preferably right near a substation so they can tie in and so you've got road accessibility, you've got power line accessibility, you've got flat land, you've got wetlands issues taking care of, you've got wildlife issues taken care and the tracks are usually pretty large. 

They're going to want about 30 to 150 acres for these developments. One megawatt typically takes about six to eight acres of land so farmland ticks off all of these boxes and interestingly when I was trying to find out just how much they pay for these leases and the like, it tends to range on the low end at around 400 bucks an acre and at the high end about $2,000 an acre so if a developer of a solar array pays a farmer. That's what they're going to be paying. I think you could figure just rule a thumb around $1,000 an acre but these are for 20 to 30 year leases.

So a substantial amount of guaranteed income for these folks over a long period of time. Now this compares with the average profitability if you're growing corn or soy at $400 to $600 an acre so very attractive for the farmer right? He could make twice as much doing nothing than they would farming that land. So clearly that's attractive. 

So I'm not quite sure where the objective is other than I suspect it's because no one's asked them to put solar on their property. You know it also feels a little weird in an environment where they're all claiming keep your federal government
hands off of my property let me do with my property what I want to do but I don't want my neighbor to develop solar so all of that seems a bit hypocritical. (Ed. note: try eminent domain for subsidize fossil fuel pipelines?)

But in this world you know hypocrisy is like currency so there are some incentives. Just a couple other little factors to throw in there are incentives built into to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) 10% bump for your investment tax credits if you're developing a brownfield as opposed to a green field so there are financial incentives that are built into this package but once again will those incentives supersede the added risk and the added cost of develop in a polluted site? I'm not in that business but I suspect probably doesn't balance out, that's my guess.

Another factor that seems never to be discussed in all of these is that developing solar on farmland does not mean that you can't farm it. I mean Agra voltaics is a growing field so perhaps as we see this moving forward. You're not taking farm land out of production. You can graze animals, you can plant crops, you can do all of these things you just can't plant industrialized crops which I would argue, is a good thing. You know the world of soy and corn is not necessarily the best way to deal with our food needs, so that's an issue, and I've never actually heard why one farmer would worry about another competitor getting out of business competing with them. 

I would think they would welcome their neighbors, not competing with them for production of corn and soy, if that's their motivation. There's a lot of silliness in here. They're pretending to be environmentalists when really what thing destroys more land across this nation than any other? It's industrialized farming! It's on the surface of it, silly. Farmland, as I've mentioned, is already industrial. 

So now let's get into who's behind this stuff.

"Citizens for Responsible Solar" is primarily headed up by Susan B. Ralston. She was the deputy director to Karl Rove in the George W Bush Administration. Now if you remember Karl Rove, he was known as Bush's brain.  She was also an assistant to Jack Abramoff during her tenure at at the White House. 

She had to resign because there was a huge scandal where she was the conduit between Abramoff and Rove and Tom DeLay was involved. She got immunity to testify against her boss Abramoff because he was ripping off millions of dollars from indigenous tribes as they were trying to get permits to run casino gambling facilities and it was a mess, so he ended up going to jail. He served four years,  came back out and he was reformed and born again and all those things they do and now he's back in jail because he went right back to corrupt lobbying practices and started only this time it wasn't casinos, it had to do with Bitcoin so that's the crew we're dealing with there.  

All of this stuff is very opaque because they refuse to disclose who's involved in in this but you can dig a little bit deeper. I thought, "you're known by the company you keep." The treasurer of this group was someone Lisa Lisker who was the campaign treasurer for JD Vance. Her financial consulting firm works with Republican candidates, political action committees. 

The lawyer that was involved, he's the same firm that represents a lot of other conservative organizations in Virginia including the Federalist society which is involved in you know stacking the Supreme Court, Alec, the American legislative Exchange Council that's always pushing conservative agendas at the local level and  Americans for Prosperity which is the Koch brothers essentially. So when we look at the donors to this group it has links to the Koch brothers. 

According to Greenpeace the Koch brother foundations have spent about $145 million with 90 different organizations to promote climate denying, climate change denying of course. The Koch Brothers Fortune was largely based on fossil fuels. 

Susan B. Ralston received $300,000 from the largest investor in Peabody Coal, so there are a lot of tie-ins with fossil fuel. Remotely, you can't say specifically because they don't disclose that. What they do have to disclose is if another government based or lobbying organization gives them money so on their tax return we find that the US Chamber of Commerce gave them $150,000. 

Now those of you who aren't familiar with the US Chamber of Commerce, basically it's a republican agenda organization which is very, very partisan. This was the contract with America kind of guys back with Newt Gingrich. Also the Republican Governor's Association donated $100,000. The community leaders of America which is a group of Republican Mayors and City councilmen that gave $25,000 and for some reason Lisa Murkowski's group in Alaska gave a $100,000.

So I guess fossil fuels up in Alaska are trying to stop solar down here in the lower 48. The thing I took away from this because these were the only disclosed contributors to this group, it is clearly, not just conservative versus liberal ideology, it is very partisan. These are some of the stalwarts in the Republican Party who have determined that making anti-solar is a platform. It's a political talking point. 

So that's interesting!  As I'm doing this, since we're starting to watch wander into a little bit of politics here, anybody have any comment midway?


Pete, "I just wanted to mention that I have a cousin who farms in southeast Wisconsin and when he was complaining about how they take the best land for solar arrays. I pointed out to him that we're using that so-called best land, to grow corn to feed the cars. If our story is that we're doing that for vehicle miles and that's the story there being told, we should be putting PV on the land because PV per acre produces far more vehicle miles per year than corn does. That's ignoring the pollutants from fertilizers and the depletion of fossil groundwater. If their story is this land is precious, they would not be using it to feed cars. My cousin the farmer, he totally agreed with that.

Jay, "That's a good point, yeah good point. I mean I like I said at the onset I have sympathy for the idea that this should not be our first choice for that land contrarily I would argue that the way they're farming it should not be our first choice either but then I would go even further and say, okay, so then you're against all Suburban development? You're against every Walmart that's ever been put any piece of property? You're against... I mean it once again it's very selective outrage against a very small piece of the industrialization of of Midwest farmland you know it's to the point where I don't know. 

I think a lot of their motivation is the same motivation that motivates them in a lot of their political discussions, it's this anger. It's, "I want to resent other people I'm not the one benefiting therefore I don't like it."  It's just this angry  white male nonsense that we're all having to put up with. 

Our generation just needs to hurry up and die (Ed note: satirical point), you know, leave it to some folks who are going to do it properly. We'll leave it to AI, they're going to take over. (Ed note: snarky comment)