One of environmentalists’ major concerns about adding solar farms in places such as the Mojave Desert is the destruction of land and disturbance of the natural habitat. But what if that land was already destroyed due to salt contamination from over-irrigation? Could these environmentalists bear to place a solar farm over this disturbed land?
Right now, parts of the San Joaquin Valley farmland appear to be a perfect candidate for such a measure. The land and wildlife have already been disturbed due to agricultural processes and now is ripe for the chance to become an electricity-generating solar farm. Another potential area for a solar farm is the dust bowl located east of Sierra Nevada, more commonly known as the Owens Lake. Solar panels in this region will not only provide a clean energy source but may also prevent the uncontrollable gusts of dust.
The amount of electricity that can be produced on a solar farm on abandoned agricultural land can be huge and that is why you are seeing the government jumping at the chance to re-purpose much of this land for renewable energy projects. According to the New York Times:
Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres….At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants…
The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are evaluating a dozen landfills and toxic waste sites for wind farms or solar power plants. In Arizona, the Bureau of Land Management has begun a program to repurpose landfills and abandoned mines for renewable energy.
Utilizing disturbed land seems to have the support of almost every sector of society. Corporations are looking for ways to meet clean energy requirements; farmers are looking for revenue in a time of drought and failed crops; environmentalists prefer recycling land rather than destroying it for the purpose of installing renewable energy; and politicians view this as an opportunity to pursue clean energy projects.
But even while the support is strong, farmers still want the community to value the importance of agriculture.
Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said… “We believe that farmland should be used for farming, and that productive farmland is an environmental attribute as valuable as renewable energy production.”
It is true that the American farmer is critical to economic vibrancy of the national economy, and in particular, the California economy. In addition, with increased urban sprawl, farmers are seeing their lands disappear so it is hardly surprising to see such farmers objecting to the re-purposing of farm land for a high-tech solar project. However, it is important that we continue to maximize our resources in the most efficient manner possible. So if certain agricultural lands are no longer suitable for their initial intended use and re-habilitating such land for farming is not an option, converting these fields into solar fields that can produce clean power makes the most sense. While, as a nation, we need to be sensitive to the importance and tradition of the American farmer, we must continue to look forward to figure out unique and efficient ways to generate clean power for our future.