Proposal Would Shield Farmland From Key Wind, Solar Subsidy

By Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times. He can be reached at Follow Nathan on Twitter @nnworcester
March 30, 2022 Updated: March 31, 2022

Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) has introduced legislation that would eliminate the energy credit for wind and solar installations if they are operated by a public utility on agricultural land.

Known as the Future Agriculture Retention and Management (FARM) Act of 2022, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on Feb. 28.

“I kept hearing stories about how productive agricultural land in Wisconsin and around the country was being used for these projects,” Tiffany said in an interview with The Epoch Times.

“It deeply concerns me that we’re going to take productive agricultural land out of production for something that’s intermittent and requires enormous subsidies to survive in the marketplace.”

Solar photovoltaic power in Tiffany’s home state of Wisconsin has a capacity factor of just 16 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration, meaning it is far less productive than nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas, and coal power in the state.

Tiffany told The Epoch Times that a farmer in western Wisconsin reached out to him last year and said he was being offered $800 an acre and 25 years of guaranteed rent to put up a utility-scale solar installation on his property.

Tiffany says a typical farmer in his district would pay $150 to $200 an acre in rent. That’s in line with a 2020 state-level estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which listed an average price of $138 per acre.

“This farmer was really concerned about this. He said, ‘I could do this and make a bunch of money—but that’s not the best thing for America, especially when it comes to food production,’” Tiffany said.

“Some of the rent offers per acre for land, for wind, and solar are just something that normal farmers can’t compete with,” Isaac Orr, an energy expert at the Center of the American Experiment, told The Epoch Times.

Tiffany first announced the legislation with Orr, who, as did Tiffany, grew up on one of Wisconsin’s many dairy farms.

“A lot of times, it is the people who are the furthest removed from jobs where you get your hands dirty that are the most enthusiastic about these kinds of low-energy societies that are based on this kind of fairy tale of wind, solar, and batteries,” Orr told The Epoch Times.

Some solar boosters have promoted “agrivoltaics,” which are systems that pair photovoltaic solar panels with agricultural production.

Last year’s “Solar Futures Study” from the Department of Energy, for example, noted that the Agriculture Department supports “integrated agricultural systems”—that is, approaches to farming aimed at realizing more than one function from the same piece of land, often in line with environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) or ESG-like principles.

The Department of Energy suggested that agrivoltaics could fall into that category, citing, among other research, a study that indicated the combination of solar installations and crop production could make land as much as 70 percent more productive.

However, Orr expressed skepticism about the feasibility of growing crops under, or near, large solar panels. He also noted that livestock could damage such installations.

Tiffany announced the proposal as food shortages have become a looming threat, with President Joe Biden saying last week that such shortages would be “real.”

“I think we’re going to see a rebalancing of our priorities when it comes to energy and agriculture,” Orr said, citing the Russia–Ukraine war’s effects on global energy markets as well as China’s dominance of the global supply chain for solar panels.

Various states, including Iowa and Oregon, have also seen efforts to slow the spread of utility-scale solar on U.S. farmland.

“The next step is to talk to some state legislators, because it should be a real concern for them,” Tiffany said.

Orr noted that Tiffany’s bill doesn’t outright ban wind or solar development.

“If the shareholders want this, then fine—that’s their opportunity. But the U.S. taxpayer should not be ensuring that they’re going to get their money back,” he said.

“There is no free market for electricity. I completely acknowledge that. But that doesn’t mean we should be encouraging rational actors to do irrational things.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment regarding Tiffany’s bill. The ranking Republican member of that committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), also didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment.

Representatives of two major renewable energy industry associations, the American Clean Power Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, also didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment.

Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times. He can be reached at Follow Nathan on Twitter @nnworcester