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New organization hopes to smooth way for solar power
Illinois Correspondent

PEORIA, Ill. — Solar farms, often developed on agricultural land, represent one of the most controversial current topics related to farmland usage and conversion. Over the next ten years U.S. solar output is expected to increase five-fold, with the goal of bringing clean and affordable energy to more communities. 
The Solar Uncommon Dialogue, announced on October 12, serves to advance large-scale U.S. solar development while championing land conservation and supporting local community interests. The agreement is the result of a 20-month conversation convened by Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  
“Major U.S. solar projects are critical to fighting climate change but are increasingly opposed across the nation due to significant community and land conservation concerns,” said Stanford energy scholar Dan Reicher, who launched and leads the Solar Uncommon Dialogue and has served as U.S. Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “It’s exciting how motivated the parties are to avoid these conflicts and develop high-impact solutions — a triple play for climate, conservation, and community.”
The agreement, which signatories say represents a “major turning point” in resolving conflicts over developing “major” U.S. solar projects and related conservation and community concerns, is based on three tenets:
• CLIMATE: emphasizes minimizing carbon emissions through clean energy sources, like solar energy and other tools, including natural climate solutions. 
• CONSERVATION: seeks to minimize impacts on natural and working lands. 
• COMMUNITY: commits to equitable distribution of renewable energy project benefits.
Six working groups are being convened to address key issues and opportunities that include “energy and agricultural technologies,” “policy solutions” and other engagements. The ultimate goal of the agreement is to create best practices that solar companies, local governments and other stakeholders can utilize when negotiating and siting solar projects. 
The rapid development of solar projects across the nation is sparked by federal and state incentives and mandates, coupled with declining equipment costs. Pushback is coming from environmentalists, farmers, and communities over how the developments would affect wildlife, food and fiber production, land values and scenic views, among other objections. 
The utilization of solar production on working lands is described as agrivoltaics (the combined use of solar panels and farmland) and floatovoltaics (the use of solar panels on floating structures). Another example of solar project development covered in the agreement involves brightfields for abandoned land or coal mines, according to insight provided by Agriculture Dive.  
The Solar Uncommon Dialogue establishes that large scale solar projects must be “transparent, equitable and efficient” and success “will require many trade-offs” between developers, landowners, communities and local zoning boards.   
“As the solar and storage industry grows, it’s critical that we prioritize local engagement,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the SEIA. “We are thrilled to join our partners in this landmark agreement to help us quickly, responsibly, and equitably deploy solar and storage projects. We’re confident that by thoughtfully addressing stakeholder concerns from the start, we’ll be able to deliver the equitable clean energy future we need to see.”
Stanford-organized “Uncommon Dialogues” involve a convening of cross-sector experts and stakeholders designed to find common ground and build consensus around specific environmental challenges. A previous Uncommon Dialogue agreement on hydropower and river conservation led to $2.3 billion in federal funding for implementation of its working groups’ recommendations, according to a Stanford news release. 
American Farmland Trust, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Land Trust Alliance and global energy company EDP Renewables are among the 21 parties to the solar agreement.