Bipartisan legislation introduced to protect farmers who agree to solar panel installation

Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 10:01 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Steven Mueller signed a contract a few years ago where agreed to the installation of solar panels on his hundreds of acres that is his farm.

Like most farmers, he was approached about it numerous times.

“Every farmer in the area, or probably most farmers in Wisconsin, have a lot of offers on the table for solar. So, you don’t really have to seek it out these days. They’re kind of seeking you,” said Mueller.

While he is excited about the opportunity to join in on the renewable energy efforts, other farmers have questions about the relationship between their way of life and energy efficiency.

“The general mood is definitely mixed. A lot of people like the old school heritage of it’s farmland and and they hate to see change,” said Mueller.

That is why Democratic Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin teamed up with Republican Iowa Senator introduced the Protecting Future Farmland Act.

“83% of solar installations are on agricultural land,” said Sen. Baldwin.

She said the bipartisan bill addresses concerns farmers have about stewardship of farmland and soil.

“We want to optimize when we’re seeing a lot more solar installations and large scale solar farms come about, but helping farmers with protecting the soil and the water from this precious resource of our agricultural land,” said Sen. Baldwin.

It also addresses any issues that may arise in the future when lease agreements are up and possible decommissioning of the land begins years and even decades from now.

“Right now there’s no federal definition for co-location of crop production and livestock grazing and pollinator habitat with solar energy infrastructure,” said Sen. Baldwin.

Mueller has his reservations about the use of farmland for solar energy.

“Just the unknown, you know. Solar is still kind of new in its infancy in terms of rural energy production,” said Mueller.

Despite this, he is optimistic about the project, and believes harvesting from the sun could yield more energy than that from corn.

“It is in most cases equal to or, or, or usually greater than a crop could produce,” said Mueller.

More than anything, he is glad about the bipartisan show of support for farmers like himself.

“I’m thankful to our senators for. For looking out for the farmer and looking out for the country,” said Mueller.

He said the panels should be on the land by 2025, with construction expected to begin after next fall’s harvest.

Mueller said it should bring a dual income for farmers between produce and solar energy. He also said the contracts are a hefty commitment, with most of them being at least 25 years.

When asked about the government shutdown, Sen. Baldwin said it should not impact the process of the bill. It still has to be added to the bigger farm bill, which she believed will not get passed before the September 30th deadline. That is when the current farm bill is set to expire.