North Carolina has almost 5 million acres of farmland, but a new crop of solar installations popping up around the state has some concerned that renewable energy could make some of that land unavailable.
Yet that’s not the case according to a new study released by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. It says solar installations currently occupy about .2 percent of the state’s available farmland – or 1,200 acres.
With the state already ranking second in the country in terms of installed solar, Robin Aldina, manager of energy research with the NC Sustainable Energy Association, which commissioned the study, says solar isn’t harmful competition for farmland.
“While that number can fluctuate as more development occurs – we see more building – we see we’re not really at a point that we need to worry about the amount of land being used by solar installations in the state right now,” he states.
Currently, utility-scale solar installations add 2.3 gigawatts of capacity to the state’s electricity grid, enough to power 256,000 homes.
North Carolina ranks only behind California in terms of installed solar, but ahead of sunnier states such as Texas and Florida.
Many farmers are choosing to lease some of their land to utility solar companies, which generates a better return per acre, according to Aldina.
“Farmers are able to subsidize some of their crop land, their agricultural land, by developing a solar installation” he explains. “So they’re getting paid to lease some of their land for solar, and that allows them to keep operating a farm that otherwise might be in economic trouble.”
Aldina says farmers typically receive $400 to $1,000 per acre annually for leasing land to solar developers. Most crops provide about $300 per acre on an annual basis.