COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio could be home to more than three dozen solar farms.
According to the Ohio Power Siting Board, one is operational, 16 are approved and 25 are pending approval.
"In theory, a solar farm is the next tool in the toolbox toward combating things like climate change and improving our overall environmental sustainability with regard to the power grid," Spectrum News 1 agriculture expert Andy Vance said. "They call them a farm just because they take up a lot of space."
Vance said solar farms generate several megawatts of energy every year and can provide more income than what many farmers are used to, but the debate becomes contentious when discussing land use.
"Some of the pros are it's a great source of income for the farmers and landowners. The solar leases that I've seen are pretty lucrative; much more so than what a farmer is probably earning on return of his investment for say raising corn and soybeans," he said.
The other side of that argument, Vance said, is the idea that farmland should be farmed.
"We have a precious nonrenewable resource in farmland that they aren't making any more of it. What we have is what we have, so typically the pressure on farmland has come from urban sprawl," he said.
"Now you have this additional pressure on the land use. The developers are coming in and saying, 'Hey, I'll give you a thousand dollars per acre per year to lease your land, but that means of course that it's coming out of farming because we're going to be putting these big solar panels on it for 30 plus years.' And so you have farmers that may be renting farm ground from other farmers or landowners. You have farmers who want to buy more farm ground to expand their own farming operation seeing intense pressure as prices are now going to go up for either for their regular crop leases or the actual money that they're paying to buy additional farm ground."
Vance said it's pitting neighbors against neighbors.
"You're combatting your own rational self-interest on one hand if you're a landowner with the desire to see farming continue to be able to thrive and for farmers to be able to stay profitable in the business of farming and these solar leases could put a lot of pressure on land costs and rentals," he said.