April 6, 2023
Protecting farmland in Maine is essential for ensuring that we have the land base to grow our agricultural economy, particularly as more farmers reach retirement age and development pressures increase across the state. Protecting land is also a key natural climate solution by avoiding the greater emissions associated with developed land, by ensuring we have the farmland needed to support our local and regional food economy and create food security for our state, and by preserving the climate benefits that can result from farmers using climate-friendly practices on the land.
MFT supports renewable energy production on farmland and on active farms as long as it does not significantly diminish the potential for agricultural production. On-site energy production can provide economic support to a farm, reduce the farm’s energy costs, and is important for addressing climate change. But making sure we have the land base to support a robust local and regional food system – and food security in Maine – is also critical. As renewable energy development has increased in the state, so too has our understanding of the impacts that these projects can have on the amount of farmland taken out of agricultural production, the loss of important agricultural soils, and the competition for land that farmers need to lease in order to support their operations. MFT believes that solar generation and agriculture can co-exist symbiotically in Maine as long as solar siting is structured to balance these important interests.
LD 1227 - An Act to Balance Renewable Energy Development with Natural and Working Lands Conservation is scheduled for public hearing on April 10, 2023 and would advance key recommendations from the Agricultural Solar Siting Stakeholder Group that was created by LD 820 and convened by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) and the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) for the purpose of developing consensus-based recommendations to incentivize the siting of solar energy projects that minimize impacts to valuable agricultural lands.
First, the legislation would create the opportunity to investigate the potential of dual-use solar projects in Maine that integrate solar energy generation with agricultural production systems. This pilot program would allow for the establishment of a sufficient number of dual-use projects of varying sizes, in different locations, and involving different types of agriculture. In doing so, the pilot would allow DACF and its partners the opportunity to collect data and determine how these projects affect agricultural production, and what kinds of benefits, costs, and support needs are associated with this type of development. Although some comparable pilots are ongoing in other states, this pilot program would also allow Maine to build off the efforts of other states and test best practice approaches that are suited for Maine’s specialty crops and unique environment. The collection of this data will be critical for determining whether and how agri-voltaics could be a viable model for solar production in the state.
Second, the bill would provide GEO with the resources it needs to create a publicly-accessible database of key characteristics of fully permitted or constructed energy projects so that land use trends can be identified and strategies can be created to avoid the over-development of important resources.
A public hearing for LD 1227 is scheduled for Monday April 10, 2023 at 9am before the Legislature's Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) committee.
Ways to Get Involved
LD 1227 - An Act to Balance Renewable Energy Development with Natural and Working Lands Conservation establishes a pilot program to study and create uniform standards for solar development that is compatible with agriculture in Maine so that dual-use solar projects can be expanded throughout the state. In addition, this legislation would create a statewide public database with key characteristics of fully permitted or constructed energy projects so that land use trends can be identified and strategies can be created to avoid the over-development of important resources.
These two ideas are not new. They are based on recommendations included in the Final Report of the Agricultural Solar Stakeholder Group. The 130th Maine Legislature voted in favor of these ideas in 2022 (LD 856) but they were not enacted due to lack of approved funding by the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.
Please take action and help us get these important balanced solar siting strategies through the finish line this year.
Members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee
Senator Henry Ingwersen of York, Chair (D - Senate District 32) - Henry.Ingwersen@Legislature.Maine.gov
Senator Russell Black of Franklin (R - Senate District 5) - Russell.Black@legislature.maine.gov
Senator Craig Hickman of Kennebec (D - Senate District 14) - Craig.Hickman@legislature.maine.gov
Representative Bill Pluecker of Warren, Chair (I - House District 44 - William.Pluecker@Legislature.Maine.gov)
Representative Danny Costain of Plymouth (R - House District 33) - Danny.Costain@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Dean Cray of Palmyra (R - House District 69) - firstname.lastname@example.org
Representative Timothy Guerrette of Caribou (R - House District 4) - Timothy.Guerrette@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Randy Hall of Wilton (R - House District 74) - Randall.Hall@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Allison Hepler of Woolwich (D - House District 49) - Allison.Hepler@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Caldwell Jackson of Oxford (R - House District 80) - Caldwell.Jackson@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Rebecca Jauch of Topsham (D - House District 51) - Rebecca.Jauch@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Laurie Osher of Orono (D - House District 25) - Laurie.Osher@Legislature.Maine.gov
Representative Kathleen Shaw of Auburn (D - House District 88) - Kathleen.Shaw@Legislature.Maine.gov
Questions? Reach out to Shelley Megquier, MFT’s Policy and Research Director email@example.com
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