Solar Is Becoming The Next Cash Crop For Farmers

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.

 (Youngrae Kim/For The Washington Post)

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.

Major Solar Bill Of Rights Introduced

California Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Jim Nielsen (R-Fresno) has just proposed significant solar power legislation.

Their Solar Bill of Rights proposal, if passed, would enable California homeowners to “….require the PUC to collaborate with the Independent System Operator to modify existing tariffs to remove barriers to the participation of customer-sited energy resources in programs intended to provide energy, capacity, and ancillary services for the bulk power system.”

Image: California Senate Democrats

Basically homeowners will be able to freely generate and store their solar power and have both their solar panel systems and battery systems be connected to the grid. The bill states that there will not be any “discriminatory fees or charges” for having such a set up.

In addition to that, there will be new compensation ideas related to the benefits that solar plus storage customers bring to the grid. The main idea being that as more homeowners are storing their energy at home and delivering their excess electricity to the grid, the more resilient and stable the grid is on the whole. The senators rightly believe that homeowners should be compensated for offering this important value to the grid.

Three major organizations are supporting this proposed bill. They are Vote Solar, Solar Rights Alliance, and the California Solar and Storage Alliance. In addition to the previously mentioned senators, this bill is also backed by 4 assembly members as well as Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County).

There’s two important ideas to mention with this new proposal. First of all, it appears to be stronger legislation than the average net metering law. Secondly, it also takes into account on-site energy storage.

It’s no surprise that this is taking place in California. The state has been the leader in the adoption of solar power. However, this bodes well for other progressive states (and eventually every state in the union). It can be seen as a guide or example for other states to follow.

This really is a significant proposal. It can’t be understated. This bill would allow for energy competition. It would signal that the energy industry is no longer to remain a monopoly. Homeowners, businesses, non-profits, etc. would be allowed to become energy investors and reap the benefits of the power industry. This is an enormous opportunity for those who wish to take advantage.

This is obviously very early days as very few homeowners have both solar panels and energy storage systems. However, this proposed legislation is a great sign that the free market system should and will pertain to the energy industry as well.