University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

A Guide to Farming-Friendly Solar Published

Locally grown goods from farms and sustainable energy are good things that seem quintessentially Vermont.  But sometimes the production of these hallmarks of sustainable living can find themselves in competition for land that may be  ideal for both.

In recent years, planners and farmers have learned that, in particular, prime agricultural lands can often find themselves with the attributes that make for ideal situation of solar arrays - sunny, flat, and often near infrastructure that's convenient to population centers.

To help address this, Kimberly Hagen of the Center’s Pasture Program worked with Chris Sargent of Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission and Alex DePillis of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets to learn about the considerations that go into combining solar installations with active farming, and then translated that into a short Guide to Farming-Friendly Solar.  What they found is that this is a fertile area with a great deal of exciting potential to support locally produced food and preserve the working landscape, while addressing energy needs and improving farms’ financial viability.  

The Guide is available for free download at Guide to Farming-Friendly Solar

Preserving the Best Farmland is Key

The most significant challenge is balancing the siting needs of solar with the needs of protecting the best and most productive Vermont soils.  Sometimes the ideal location for an installation can be on agriculturally significant soil.  But balance is possible, say the guide’s authors, and they offer a few suggestions for how this can be accomplished. 

Solar and Current Use and Conserved Land

Special considerations may apply for land currently designated as in “current use.” taxation.  As it says in the guide, “To be eligible for use-value appraisal (the “current use program”), a solar array must be owned or leased by the farmer, with half or more of the electricity used on the farm. The land on which a solar array is placed cannot be enrolled in current use unless the facility itself is eligible.” 

Consider Needs & Options Carefully

As one farmer profiled among the case studies says, "The farmer knows the land and probably has a good idea of how they want it used.  You also have to think about whether the income from this will offset the loss of that land. And whether the array is to be set up for machinery to pass through too or clustered closer together – but then losing some ability for vegetation to grow beneath due to being shaded out. Lots to think about.”  Because the introduction of panels into the landscape will dramatically change the land, it’s worth thinking through carefully before breaking ground.

For more information about this work, please contact Kimberly Hagen at kimberly.hagen@uvm.edu or 802-522-6729, or Alex DePillis at alex.depillis@vermont.gov or 802-505-3067.

About UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Established in 1994, the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture provides timely information to Vermont communities and the UVM campus.  Center staff conduct innovative research, support the development of promising practices, cultivates partnership, and inform policy to advance sustainable food and farming systems

University of Vermont Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.  This institution is an equal opportunity provider.