Battle heats up over Iowa solar-project sites
MASO CITY — The Cerro Gordo County Board of Supervisors this week approved a moratorium on accepting applications or issuing permits for utility-scale wind energy conversion systems, solar energy installations and battery storage installations, the latest step in an ongoing push-and-pull between farmers and alternative energy advocates.
Most utilities estimate it takes five to six acres of land to yield one megawatt. Katie Rock, Iowa Beyond Coal campaign representative for the Sierra Club, says while Iowa’s farmland remains valuable for crop production, it is becoming equally desirable for energy production. “Iowa farms have already learned how to balance wind turbines and row crops,” Rock contended. “There is more research happening to discover new ways solar panels and agriculture can coexist through the use of what’s called agrivoltaics.” Agrivoltaics combines traditional farming with alternative energy production simultaneously.
Some farmers grow more sensitive, high-dollar crops in the shadows created by solar panels, for example, so the land under the panels remains profitable. Other entrepreneurs are even raising honey bees, which become natural pollinators for the row crops in other parts of their fields while creating natural honey for the marketplace. Rock is hopeful attitudes and rules will change as the demand for solar energy grows. “Solar is still something that’s fairly new, especially utility-scale solar,” Rock pointed out. “And you know Iowa, we take pride in our prime farm ground, we want to protect that, but we’ve got to take the time to figure it out.”
Some people who are opposed to expanding solar installations on farmland have suggested building the facilities within city limits instead.