Agrivoltaics Advancement: The New Bi-Partisan Bill Paving the Way

The Protecting Future Farmland Act, unveiled on September 25, 2023, stands as a pioneering bipartisan effort aimed at ensuring that federal investments in rural energy projects strike a harmonious balance between advancing renewable energy and promoting responsible land stewardship. Spearheaded by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), this legislation embodies a commitment to support farmers’ endeavors in deploying solar energy on their land, setting a precedent for sustainable energy development in the agricultural sector.

Endorsements from Key Agricultural and Environmental Stakeholders

With resounding support from prominent organizations like the American Farmland Trust, American Soybean Association, the Nature Conservancy, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Wisconsin Soybean Growers, the Protecting Future Farmland Act has garnered a diverse and influential coalition of advocates. This broad-based endorsement underscores the bill’s potential to transcend political boundaries and serve as a model for collaborative, forward-thinking policy-making.

Elevating Best Practices in Farmland Management

The Protecting Future Farmland Act places a spotlight on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), tasking it with the critical responsibility of establishing best practices for farmland management and protection throughout the course of solar energy development. This proactive approach ensures that as solar projects proliferate, they do so with a clear commitment to safeguarding the agricultural potential of the land.

Photo Credit: Jack’s Solar Farm – Photo by Werner Slocum: NREL

Striking a Delicate Balance for a Sustainable Future

As an increasing number of American landowners transition towards renewable energy production, it is imperative to strike a harmonious balance between driving innovation in energy and preserving the invaluable farmlands that underpin rural economies and national food security. The Protecting Future Farmland Act recognizes the nuanced nature of this challenge and provides a strategic framework to navigate it:

  • Prioritize federal assistance to those renewable energy projects (through existing Rural Energy for America Program) that have in place soil, water, and vegetation management and conservation plans.
  • Collect data on conversion of farmland to solar energy and directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to deliver a report to Congress on the benefits and impacts of solar energy development on agricultural land.
  • Authorize the National Resources Conservation Service to develop best practices for protection of soil health and productivity during the siting, construction, operation, and decommissioning of solar energy systems on agricultural land.
  • Authorize the National Resources Conservation Service to provide technical assistance to farmers growing crops or managing grazing below or in tandem with solar energy systems.
  • Define agrivoltaic systems and authorize USDA to conduct a study on agrivoltaic systems including compatibility and risk-benefit analyses. Agrivoltaics, the co-location of agricultural production (crop production, livestock grazing, and pollinator habitat) with solar energy infrastructure, has the potential to reduce land-use conflicts and provide additional benefits to farmers, rural communities, and the solar industry.
Photo Credit: Karl-Friedrich Hohl

The Takeaway

The unveiling of the Protecting Future Farmland Act heralds a significant leap forward in the quest for sustainable energy development in rural America. By championing both improved land stewardship and the responsible deployment of renewable energy technologies, this bipartisan legislation sets a new standard for conscientious land use. Endorsed by influential agricultural and environmental organizations, it represents a unified effort to safeguard farmlands while harnessing the potential of solar energy. As the bill progresses through the legislative process, it holds the promise of a brighter, more sustainable future for American agriculture and energy production.