Could Solar Energy Be Next California's Cash Crop?
Thursday, 29 Dec 2016

Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California's Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family's farming business.

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/energy/2015/10/151030-farmland-agriculture-solar-energy-conversion/
Could Solar Energy Be Next California\'s Cash Crop?

Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California's Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family's farming business.

The ranch had a steady supply of water at the time. But that changed with the state's latest, relentless drought: Federal water deliveries over the past three years dwindled to zero.

"Now the almonds are dead," Rajkovich says and with the land bone dry and no relief in sight, "The only thing we can farm is the sun. That's why solar is the obvious choice for us."

Rajkovich is one of many farmers in the Central Valley and elsewhere who are turning land over to solar developers, planting photovoltaic panels instead of crops.

California's punishing drought is sparking fierce debates over water allotments for agriculture, and more than 500,000 acres will lie fallow this year. At the same time, the state is fighting climate change more aggressively than ever with a new law requiring half of all electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030.

All of that clean energy needs real estate, and farmers have land available.

Now, almost a third of California's big solar facilities—those capable of generating one megawatt or more—stand on croplands or pastures, according to new research.

"It presents a whole suite of new questions," says Rebecca Hernandez, a Stanford University researcher who led the study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While some installations can put spent farmland to good use, she says, others could be more disruptive, especially if they require transmission lines to be built through sensitive areas nearby, or they convert land that could still be used to grow food.

In Fresno and Kings Counties, the Westlands Solar Park sits on 24,000 acres that once produced lettuce, beans, garlic, and other crops. That land is now unfarmable, and the park's developers say its salt-contaminated grounds could eventually provide 5 gigawatts of solar energy—a quarter of the whole country's current capacity.

Aside from abundant sunshine, sites like Westlands Solar Park's can be appealing to developers because the land has already been disturbed, eliminating the kinds of endangered species concerns that cropped up on the Mojave Desert's Ivanpah project, for example. (See how a rare type of tortoise created special considerations for that plant.)  

Al Solis, a real estate developer in Fresno, says he saw solar development in the Central Valley pick up after California set a target in 2011 of one-third renewable electricity by 2020. Since then, he says, projects have gotten fewer, but bigger. He expects more land in the Westlands Water District—the subject of a contentious agreement with the federal government that requires 100,000 acres to be retired from cultivation—will be offered for solar companies to purchase.

But in most cases, Solis says, a solar deal isn't necessarily a permanent switch. Instead, it can be 25- or 30-year lease that allows the farmer to reclaim the land for crops at the end of the term.  (Rajkovich's land lies within the Westlands district he says he's exploring both purchase and lease options.)

"People think that a solar facility means somehow the ground underneath it disappears," Solis says, noting that some owners of large parcels will section off some land for solar and keep the rest for farming. In those cases, "solar's not forcing them out," he says. "It's actually a benefit to keep them in agriculture on the rest of their land."

Other states, such as Georgia and North Carolina, have seen similar deals. After all, the income from a solar lease isn't affected by weather or drought it's "financial stability that actually keeps the farm operating and keeps the land in the family," Brian O'Hara, senior vice president for strategy and government affairs at Strata Solar, which has leased land from farmers in North Carolina.

For Rajkovich, a deal with a solar company on his land will be welcome, but as an income source, it can't hold a candle to almonds. They currently sell for $4 a pound, and the potential yield is 2,000 pounds per acre, he says.

"Solar doesn't pay anywhere near that," he says, but it's the best option he has now to pay off the loans on land that might never produce another crop. "We don't think we're ever getting water back there."

Article orignally published at : http://bit.ly/2h32VoZ
Header Photography by STEVE PROEHL, PROEHL STUDIOS/CORBIS

More Articles

Could Solar Energy Be Next California\'s Cash Crop?

Could Solar Energy Be Next California\'s Cash Crop?

29 Thursday 2016
IBM Solar Collector Magnifies Sun By 2000X – These Could Provide Power To The Entire Planet

IBM Solar Collector Magnifies Sun By 2000X – These Could Provide Power To The Entire Planet

25 Sunday 2016
New Scientific Study Says Solar Can Already Generate More Energy Than Oil

New Scientific Study Says Solar Can Already Generate More Energy Than Oil

19 Monday 2016
There is a power revolution heading for our homes

There is a power revolution heading for our homes

19 Monday 2016
See-Through Solar Could Turn Windows, Phones Into Power Sources

See-Through Solar Could Turn Windows, Phones Into Power Sources

07 Wednesday 2016
Future Solar Panels Will Generate Energy From Raindrops

Future Solar Panels Will Generate Energy From Raindrops

07 Wednesday 2016
Bill Gates Explainer: Energy Equation

Bill Gates Explainer: Energy Equation

28 Monday 2016
TED: How do solar panels work? - Richard Komp

TED: How do solar panels work? - Richard Komp

24 Thursday 2016
90MW Battery Storage Project Inaugurated In Germany

90MW Battery Storage Project Inaugurated In Germany

22 Tuesday 2016
Tesla’s solar roof to cost less than a regular roof

Tesla’s solar roof to cost less than a regular roof

21 Monday 2016
Mercedes-Benz Energy Storage.

Mercedes-Benz Energy Storage.

15 Tuesday 2016
Virginia Tech flexible solar panel goes where silicon can not.

Virginia Tech flexible solar panel goes where silicon can not.

14 Monday 2016
Energy On a Sphere

Energy On a Sphere

10 Thursday 2016
Spreading their wings: AICA leads the way into ‘greener pastures’

Spreading their wings: AICA leads the way into ‘greener pastures’

05 Thursday 2016
SunPower Breaks World Record for Efficient Solar Panels

SunPower Breaks World Record for Efficient Solar Panels

22 Monday 2016
Explained: The Tesla Powerwall and what it means for Australias energy market

Explained: The Tesla Powerwall and what it means for Australias energy market

02 Tuesday 2016
Taste of Tasmania by Tesla Model S85: 10 days energized with renewable energy

Taste of Tasmania by Tesla Model S85: 10 days energized with renewable energy

20 Wednesday 2016
India\'s solar surge may slash coal imports

India\'s solar surge may slash coal imports

04 Monday 2016
AICA Energy

Solar Balloons Could Soon Soar

18 Friday 2015
Paris climate deal: Historic climate change agreement reached at COP21

Paris climate deal: Historic climate change agreement reached at COP21

12 Saturday 2015
Barcaldine solar farm expected to provide about 10pc of Australia\'s large-scale solar electricity

Barcaldine solar farm expected to provide about 10pc of Australia\'s large-scale solar electricity

10 Thursday 2015
Tesla home solar battery hits Australia

Tesla home solar battery hits Australia

10 Thursday 2015
Minister feels heat of solar flare-up

Minister feels heat of solar flare-up

02 Wednesday 2015
Is installing solar panels on your home still worth the cost?

Is installing solar panels on your home still worth the cost?

17 Tuesday 2015
LG Chem pushes Australian battery storage prices further down the curve

LG Chem pushes Australian battery storage prices further down the curve

23 Thursday 2015

Request for Free Consultation