Farmers across the country are starting to install solar panel systems as a new way to make money.
This particular post will highlight a WaPo article that focused on farmers in Illinois. According to the article, hundreds of farmers have applied to have solar panel systems be connected to the grid so that they can sell the excess energy that the systems generate.
These farmers have realized that the profits generated from excess solar will lead to more money than what can currently be attained from crops. According to the University of Illinois, prices for corn are 7 percent lower and soybean prices have fallen 15 percent. Also, farmers are doing their part to help the state reach its mandated goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
The state is expecting about 1,000 total applicants for this solar program. About 100 of them will receive agreements to be accepted into the program starting (now) March, 2019. This will bring the solar production capacity to between 80 and 100 MW. According to the Illinois Solar Energy Association, a total of 10,000 MW of solar capacity will eventually need to be installed to meet the state’s goals.
There is concern, however, that taking prime, fertile farm land away from food production might have dire consequences. “The soils here in Illinois are some of the most productive soils in the world” – soil scientist Robert Rhykerd. The U.N. expects world’s population to rise to 9.8 billion by 2050 so feeding that additional 2 billion people is a concern, to say the least.
While Rhykerd and other experts see the importance of increasing food production, they also realized that farmers need to be able to make a living. For many of these farmers, solar power is helping them make ends meet.
Farmers and universities are also being very smart about exactly where solar farms are set up. Obviously, less fertile areas are chosen for solar panel installations. Evan DeLucia, director for the center of Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, knows the importance of this. “As an ecologist and sustainability person, I really am concerned about the expansion of solar onto prime farmlands. So that’s something to look at really closely.”
Much like the general solar industry across the country, it’s very early days for solar power on farmlands. They certainly have the land and financial incentive to consider utilizing solar energy.
Farmers will surely continue to install more solar panel systems well into the future.