Farming Solar on the Margins
__B.U. L. Rev.__(2022-23, Forthcoming)
25 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2022 Last revised: 10 Jun 2022
Date Written: March 25, 2022
Knowledge of catastrophic climate change is not new, but solutions have proven elusive. In the United States, governments at all levels are pushing for fundamental policy changes. Many of these initiatives fall at the intersection of climate and energy policy; they endeavor to replace fossil-based energy with zero carbon sources—particularly solar energy, as well as wind. These initiatives are unlikely to make significant progress, however, unless they address the land use controversies that have long slowed efforts to expand green energy. And to do that successfully, they must navigate the political-economic realities at the intersection of land, climate, and energy policy.
Building out massive quantities of zero-carbon energy will require extensive land use changes—millions of acres of land for new generation and its supporting transmission lines. Such an extensive land use change will face significant, and likely fatal, opposition under the current approach, which is to forge ahead without common ground. Indeed, conservative rural voters and even progressive “green” communities have already blocked the siting (location) of many renewable energy projects.
Forming new coalitions by capitalizing on areas of shared opportunity will be crucial to making the large-scale land use changes necessary to a climate solution. As explored here, the most promising area lies within agriculture. Farmers—many of them on the conservative side of the political spectrum—hold vast amounts of land. They also already benefit from substantial government subsidies to help them deal with volatile commodity prices and extreme weather events (which are becoming more common due to climate change). Land, in turn, is exactly the asset that solar developers need.
This Essay reframes the key obstacles to climate policy and argues for a solution to the current climate policy impasse. We propose that the next Farm Bill should shift the billions of subsidies that keep marginal land out of production to solar energy production on these lands. While there is no silver bullet to the “massive problem” of climate change, matching solar farms with millions of acres of land could be a substantial and positive step forward.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation