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Harnessing the Wind and Sun

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By Lois Hoffman | May 16, 2018

Whether we like it or not, change is the name of the game. Nothing ever stays the same and, in today’s world, this is especially true how we meet our energy needs. As governments mandate us to have more and more of our energy come from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels, the emphasis has turned more toward wind and solar power.

Lately, in my neck of the woods, there have been some intense discussions to the pros and cons of putting wind and solar farms on farmland in the area. Most folks are pretty much for or against the development of solar and wind power, there are not too many middle-of-the-roaders on this issue.

I, for one, have long been a proponent of developing both these types of renewable energy. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is because I am definitely against nuclear power.

Yes, it does provide clean energy, as long as there are no accidents. There are 38 operating nuclear plants around the Great Lakes, the world’s largest bodies of fresh water. That alone should be cause for concern.

As with anything, there are pros and cons and wind and solar energy are no different. There is also a lot of propaganda out there, both for and against, so it pays to get the facts.

Since my area is right in the midst of this controversy, I have found a few facts which I would like to share. If nothing else, they will be a starting point for anyone whom this concerns to launch their own research. Pertaining to different issues, here are some facts:

  1. Health Risks — Neither wind turbines nor solar panels pose any health issues, per se, like nuclear plants and living next to high voltage power lines do. There are some small amounts of toxic materials used to manufacture solar panels but these do not pose risks in the field. Unlike fossil fuels, there are no emissions or pollutants.
  2. Safety — Safety is a little bit different than health. Solar panels are subject to breakage and wind turbines have been known to catch fire from electrical and mechanical issues. For this reason, depending on the installing company and local ordinances, there are minimum distances that they can be located near a home or structure. Make sure your contract reflects these distances in certain terms.
  3. Glare — The sun strikes the blades of wind turbines and solar panels at different times and at different angles throughout the year. Especially from the blades of wind turbines, this can cause glare from reflected light. As opposed to earlier models, most turbine installers take this into consideration and can position the turbines to cause minimal glare.
  4. Noise — This is a non-issue with solar panels but the turning blades of the turbines do cause noise. How bad, depends on what each person considers noise and on the speed of the blades.
  5. Land Use — This is the tricky part. Most contracts want to lease your land for many years, much of the time up to 40 and beyond. Each contract is very specific as to what landowners can and cannot do on the land that is leased but not used during this time period. Much of the time, farmers can still farm the land that is not used but be sure this is stated in your contract. The term “use” is vague and can mean many things. Even though the company may not install equipment such as a wind turbine itself on your land, they may use it for running cables, building substations and building access roads to turbines elsewhere. If you do have equipment on your land, leasing it may also give them the right to access that equipment any time they wish and by whatever means they wish. Make sure this “open access” to your land is something you are OK with.
  6. Aesthetics — Some folks say they don’t want to look out their window and see wind turbines or solar panels. This is a viable concern, just keep in mind that even if you don’t sign, it does not mean that your neighbor won’t and you will still be looking at them.
  7. Money — This is the lucrative part. After all, why would you be willing to lease your land if there were not adequate compensation for it? Most of these companies pay very well, especially if you have equipment on your land. It can also provide extra cash on land that you already farm or is not used. The down side here is that you are basically giving permission to someone else to use your land for quite a number of years in whatever fashion they choose.
  8. Taking Good Farm Land — Here is the big issue. Quite simply, our farm land is disappearing and that is what feeds us all. Solar and wind farms are looking for flat, dry land and that is precisely the best land to farm. So, you really have to decide what is important to you. If it is land that you can still farm and they only need the right-of-way uses that is a different story. Examine this concern carefully.
  9. End Use — Another consideration is what happens when the solar panels and turbines have outlived their lifespan. Make sure there are provisions in the contract that state how and when the company will dispose of equipment that is past its use and if they will return your ground to its present condition.

These are just a few of the options when considering leasing your land to a solar or wind turbine company. There are definitely many more things to consider.

Being pro or con on this issue is strictly a private matter and the choice will be different for each family. What I am proposing through this article is: Do your homework before signing on the dotted line, especially on this one.

Photo by Getty Images/Kwangmoozaa.

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